Located around halfway between Norway and the North Pole, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is home to the world's largest seed collection, intended to safeguard important crops for future generations. The site was chosen, in part, because the permafrost acts as a natural freezer to preserve the seeds, but record global temperatures have seen meltwater make its way inside, prompting new measures to fortify the facility in the face of climate change.
Designed as a storage facility to withstand natural disasters and war, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault has been in operation for nine years and protects more than 930,000 different seed varieties. Sitting deep inside a mountain in the Arctic circle, the seeds inside are kept frozen even without power, thanks to the surrounding permafrost and rock.
But with 2016 the hottest year on record and the Arctic in particular experiencing extraordinarily warm temperatures, melted permafrost has poured into the vault's entranceway. According to the Global Crop Trust, which helps finance the project, this is because the "permafrost has not established itself as projected."
The Trust was quick to allay concerns over the well-being of the seeds, releasing a statement over the weekend assuring the public that none were harmed, as any water that enters the outer part of the vault is immediately pumped out. All the same, the Norwegian government is making a few technical upgrades to reduce the risk of water damage in the future.
These include the construction of drainage ditches in the mountainside to carry away any meltwater, new waterproof walls inside the entrance tunnel and moving the transformer station out of the tunnel to eliminate a heat source and make for easier maintenance. These changes will be implemented over the next 18 months, with the facility to be continuously monitored for further problems over the coming years.
Source: Global Crop Trust