It was meant to be the safest place on Earth: when Cary Fowler started the Svalbard Global seed vaultSaatgutbankSeed Vault, thanks to financing from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, he imagined a sleek modern building sunk into a frozen mountainside. Out there on the remoteentlegen, weit entferntremote Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, it would be completely secure and, of course, imperviousundurchdringlich, undurchlässigimpervious to the elements.
In 2008, that’s what the American agriculturalist got. But now the famous vault and its preciouswertvollprecious contents — nearly a million packets of seeds that represent the world’s food — are threatened by the effects of climate change.
The site of the vault in the Norwegian permafrost was initially considered to be stable, both tectonically and in terms of temperature. Recent water damage to its downward-slopingabschüssig, geneigtsloping access tunnel, however, has shown that the building’s architectural design ignored one key eventuality: what would happen if higher temperatures managed to weaken the permafrost? Unthinkable just nine years ago, this is now reality, especially since 2016 was the world’s hottest year on record.
Unthinkable just nine years ago, this is now reality: climate change has weakened the permafrost
“The solution is easy, and I give it for free,” Arne Kristoffersen, a former Svalbard coal miner, told The Guardian. “Make a new access tunnel going upwards so the water can run out of, not into, the seed bank. It is not very hard, but it will cost a lot of money.”
Norway is doing just that: it has recently promised to pay $4.4 million towards improving the structure by building an upward-sloping entry tunnel. Luckily, no seeds were damaged in the recent flooding.
Svalbard Global Seed Vault in 360°
This video by the New York Times lets you explore the Svalbard Global Seed Vault from all angles.