Climate change floods Doomsday seed vault

File this one under human folly, Via The Guardian:

It was designed as an impregnable deep-freeze to protect the world’s most precious seeds from any global disaster and ensure humanity’s food supply forever. But the Global Seed Vault, buried in a mountain deep inside the Arctic circle, has been breached after global warming produced extraordinary temperatures over the winter, sending meltwater gushing into the entrance tunnel.

The vault is on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen and contains almost a million packets of seeds, each a variety of an important food crop. When it was opened in 2008, the deep permafrost through which the vault was sunk was expected to provide “failsafe” protection against “the challenge of natural or man-made disasters”.

But soaring temperatures in the Arctic at the end of the world’s hottest ever recorded year led to melting and heavy rain, when light snow should have been falling. “It was not in our plans to think that the permafrost would not be there and that it would experience extreme weather like that,” said Hege Njaa Aschim, from the Norwegian government, which owns the vault.

“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. Fortunately, the meltwater did not reach the vault itself, the ice has been hacked out, and the precious seeds remain safe for now at the required storage temperature of -18C.

But the breach has questioned the ability of the vault to survive as a lifeline for humanity if catastrophe strikes. “It was supposed to [operate] without the help of humans, but now we are watching the seed vault 24 hours a day,” Aschim said. “We must see what we can do to minimise all the risks and make sure the seed bank can take care of itself.”

Move it.


  1. Actually if you researched this a little more thoroughly the people who know said it happens every year, they fully expected it to and designed the vault for it and they’re not concerned about it. A genuine example of fake news, perhaps?

  2. I wish it existed in 1908 or 1608 – before man started genetically modifying seeds.

    Have we still got good wheat seeds on the planet?

    Soy seeds? Apple seeds? Chickpea?

    • You do know that the wheat seeds from 1608 looked nothing like the wheat seeds in 1908? You do know that humans have been genetically modifying seeds since the first days of farming?

      Why would a seed be ‘not good’ when it still can be used to grow a plant (with better yield and greater tolerance)?

      • Philly SlimMEMBER

        The issue is that to make a new wheat seed that deals with a greater range of temperatures we might want to tap into those older 1608 strains but if they no longer exist than we are screwed. That is why folks are wanting to find wild strains of all those sorts of seeds.

        In my post above in the abc doco the seed hunter is looking for wild chickpeas to see if they can introduce some traits into commercial varieties to make them hardier.

    • Philly SlimMEMBER

      There was a great doco on the ABC about this seed hunter looking for the wild chickpea. He was in the middle of nowhere tajikistan and even in these isolated valleys they had modern seeds that some soviet agronomist had delivered in the 30s!! It’s been a while but from memory he did find some somewhere.

  3. Not an engineer with a Harvard degree, but you’d think the entrance tunnel would be sloped, such that water flows out rather than in?