Norway Will Upgrade its Doomsday Seed Vault Because of Climate Change

Monday, 26 February 2018 - 6:55PM
Monday, 26 February 2018 - 6:55PM
Norway Will Upgrade its Doomsday Seed Vault Because of Climate Change
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For ten years now, Norway has invested money and resources in attempting to save the world in case of a catastrophic disaster, and the result is the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.

If, for example, we ruin the planet thanks to nuclear war or climate change driven natural disasters, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault will be on hand to help humanity weather the storm (provided enough of humanity is still around afterwards). The facility holds over a million different samples of seeds from plants found all over the world, the idea being that if any flora goes extinct, it can later be brought back by future botanists using these seeds.

This means that the world will never truly be rid of poison oak, but it also means that if an important crop is ever wiped out, we'll still have the resources to grow new ones safely locked away in an Arctic vault.

While the facility, nicknamed the "Doomsday Vault", already represents a sizable investment on the part of the Norwegian people (for which they may never properly receive the thanks they deserve), the country's government is now looking to throw another $13 million at the project in upgrades and improvements.

Last year, the vault, which exists on a remote island in the Arctic, suffered from a significant flood, which thankfully didn't contaminate any of the samples, but did force Norway to reconsider whether or not their creation is actually as apocalypse-proof as it's supposed to be.

The problem in large part comes from the fact that Arctic ice isn't exactly as permanent as it used to be, and when the entire island gets more sloshy, there's a danger that melted water can work its way into the vault and form cracks in the foundations. If the vault isn't actually capable of surviving a great degree of climate change, it's probably not going to prove useful in keeping its seed samples safe.

According to Statsbygg, the company than performed a recent feasibility study on the vault:

Opening quote
"The main principle for construction in permafrost areas is to avoid the warming and thawing of permafrost. For buildings that are particularly sensitive to... damage, or where long life is desired, artificial cooling of the ground [will be required]. Climate change will lead to increased ground temperatures, less permafrost, poorer carrying capacity."
Closing quote

The seed vault may be run by Norway, but many countries around the world contribute to its supplies, and are able to make withdrawals where necessary. Back in 2015, the Syrian Civil War led to the first withdrawal of seeds by the International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA), who requested over a hundred thousand seed samples to help with research following the devastation of the war.

If the Svalbard seed bank isn't able to stay dry during the next few decades as Arctic ice continues to melt, we're all going to suffer as a result. Of course, considering just how much temperatures are expected to rise over the next few years, we'll probably have more immediate problems to worry about when the Doomsday Vault stops being able to protect the planet's future.
Science News