Permafrost melt sparks concerns for 'Doomsday' seed vault on remote Norwegian island

Buried into a mountain on the Norwegian island of Spitbergen, about 800 miles north of the Arctic Circle, the Svalbard "doomsday" vault stores nearly a million seed samples from the across the world. The problem is that climate change is slowly melting the ice in the Arctic, posing a threat to the doomsday seed vault. The seeds inside the vault are meant to produce new breed of food supply in case a doomsday scenario occurred.

The vault on the island of Spitsbergen was thought to be impregnable; the protective layer of permafrost was intended as a natural barrier that could hold off natural and man-made disasters but due to high temperatures, the permafrost began to melt. Cary Fowler, a conservationist, teamed up with several organizations including the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research started the vault to save many global plant seeds. Almost a million packets of seeds can be found within, ready to offer a measure of food security for the world.

The Norwegian government owns the vault, and a government official admitted builders did not foresee the impact of climate change. Part of the precautions includes building waterproof walls, ditches to help direct running water away from the entrance, and moving electrical equipment. The seeds reported Engadget were never "threatened", but the Svalbard Global Seed Vault did not want to take chances. Additionally, the number of visitors is being reduced to limit human body heat. The water that breached the entrance to the tunnel froze and Hege said the ice has been removed.

The seeds weren't harmed, according to a statement on the Svalbard Global Seed Vault website, and the facility wasn't damaged either.

With a capacity of 4.5 million variants, now close to one million individual seed samples from around the world are kept in temperature-controlled facilities, and more arrive on a regular basis.

  • Carolyn Briggs