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Doomsday? Svalbard Seed Vault flooded, threatened by Climate Change
20 May 2017, 10:06 | Bernard Bryant
The Global Seed Vault
Opened in 2008, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault contained 930,821 seed samples as of February, and they're stored in a way that would allow them to be used for "centuries, or in some cases thousands of years".
The vault aims to secure millions of seeds representing every important crop variety available in the world today. The seeds are safe for now - they're packaged in moisture-proof bags, and the flood didn't reach the vault, just the entrance.
While the designers of the vault seem to have taken the possibilities of nuclear wars and global pandemics into account, they may have given too little thought to one other serious threat: global warming.
"A lot of water went into the start of the tunnel and then it froze to ice, so it was like a glacier when you went in", she told the Guardian.
"It was not in our plans to think that the permafrost would not be there and that it would experience extreme weather like that", Njaa Aschim from the country's Public Construction and Property agency told the Guardian. It is a big responsibility and we take it very seriously.
While the flooding didn't reach the vault itself - meaning the seeds are so far unharmed - the breach has caused experts to question how climate change will affect the stronghold's long-term survival.
Seeds are stored on shelves at the worldwide gene bank.
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The melting of permafrost is not just putting the seed vault at risk.
And all of this is happening as the melting of Arctic sea ice has hastened, threatening permafrost beneath roads and buildings from Alaska to Siberia. The Svalbard archipelago, of which Spitsbergen is part, has warmed rapidly in recent decades, according to Ketil Isaksen, from Norway's Meteorological Institute.
Scientists have discovered that the Earth's poles are heating up at a faster rate than the rest of the globe, drastically reducing the amount of ice there.
In Arctic Svalbard, there is a vault that might sound like a sci-fi plot device. Similarly, on February 6, 2017, Svalbard saw a high temperature of 5.9 degrees Celsius, or 42.6 degrees Fahrenheit, well above the average for the date, which was just minus-16.1 degrees Celsius, or 3 degrees above zero Fahrenheit.
The vault has been built 120 metres into a mountain, in a locale with cold temperatures and permafrost, in an effort to ensure that its storage rooms remain "naturally frozen" in case its electrical system shorts out. The area where the vault is located is not in an area permanently surrounded by sea ice, for example.
Record-high temperatures in the region have thrown this dream into disarray. But now the Norwegian government has to keep an eye on it around the clock. It was even supposed to withstand a mythical nuclear winter - but it was almost foundered by global warming.
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