New Delhi: In preparation for doomsday, conservationist Cary Fowler, in association with the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), started the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in the remote Arctic Svalbard archipelago.
The underground vault – that has also been called Noah's Ark for seeds – houses and protects the world's crops for a worst-case scenario, that is doomsday.
Although the vault was built with utmost care, keeping in mind the safety of the seeds, the seemingly fool-proof seed bank has faced its first test – and failed.
According to the latest reports, the rising global temperatures caused the deep permafrost – which was actually seen as a protective shield – to melt, thereby flooding the vault. Thankfully, no seeds were ruined, but the security of the location is in question.
Meltwater from the permafrost has apparently gushed into the tunnel entrance of the vault. “It was not in our plans to think that the permafrost would not be there and that it would experience extreme weather like that,” Hege Njaa Aschim, from the Norwegian government, told The Guardian.
“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 newspaper.
The Global Seed Vault, opened in 2008, is a concrete bunker, 100 hundred metres deep inside a mountain. The refrigerated unit was designed to be a secure place to store seeds from many of Earth's 3 million known plant species.
With temperatures across the world rising higher than previously predicted or imagined, the Arctic region, which is used as a 'climate-measuring unit' by scientists across the world, has been shattering heat records recently.
US scientists said that the unusually warm air triggered massive melting of ice and snow and a late autumn freeze last year.
The Arctic's annual air temperature over land was 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit (3.5 degrees Celsius) higher than in 1900, according to the Arctic Report Card 2016.
As for the vault, future water intrusions can now be seen as a possibility which need to be avoided. In that case, the station's caretakers are waterproofing and removing electronics from the 100-meter tunnel leading into the mountain vault along with digging trenches to channel water and rain away, according to The Guardian. They have also installed pumps in the seed room should it ever be breached.
According to Engadget, Popular Science contacted Cary Fowler, who provided some additional context. As Fowler describes it, the entrance consists of a 100 meter long tunnel that runs at a slight downward slope into the heart of the mountain, before a slight uphill section leading to the vault doors. There are pumps built in for specifically this situation, and the vault itself is kept at below freezing temperatures, however a record heatwave is behind the greater-than-expected volume of water.
More importantly, when the vault was designed, Fowler says scientists calculated what would happen if all the world's ice melted, and there was a tsunami, and estimated the vault would be five to seven stories above that point. While there may be some tweaking needed to keep the entryway accessible, the vault itself should remain a safe haven.