How seed vault in deep Arctic had a run-in with climate change
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault (SGSV) facility is a vault on the island of Spitsbergen in Svalbard, Norway that contains humanity’s ultimate food security.
Specifications of the vault:
- The facility was commissioned in 2008 and was built to withstand manmade and natural disasters.
- The government of Norway is responsible for administration and technical operation of the vault
- Each vault is approximately 27m long, 10m wide and 6m high
- The storage capacity of the vault is approximately 4.5 million seed samples
- Seeds are stored at -18 degree Celsius, in specially designed foil packages that are placed in sealed boxes
- The depositors retain ownership rights of the seed samples
- The facility protects the seed samples against conventional bombs and rising sea levels
- It also has a gene bank which is among the most modern in the world. Such banks are significant to store seeds for the future
Grave existential threat faced by the vault:
- The permafrost around the entrance of the doomsday vault melted, which resulted in flooding the access tunnel with water.
- Permafrost refers to permanently frozen soil found in Earth’s higher latitudes. Technically a ground that remains at or below zero degree Celsius for at least two consecutive years qualifies in this category
- Since permafrost was not established as expected water intruded in the outer part of the access tunnel
- Technical improvements in the structure were initiated in relation to the intrusion of water in the outer access tunnel
- The government of Norway stated that the seed in the vault were never threatened and will remain safe during the implementation of protective measures
- The measures are aimed at providing additional security to the vault, which is significant for global food security
- Rising global temperatures have created a situation in which frost was not established as expected.
- The question that is haunting administrators as well as scientists is whether this is going to happen again and the measure that should be in place to avoid a reoccurrence
When was the vault assessed last:
- The vault was assessed last in 2015, when because of the Syrian conflict seeds of drought and heat resistant wheat could not be assessed
- India used the vault recently to send seeds of red rice Himachal Pradesh where cultivation of the variety was stopped because of its low yield. The medicinal properties of red rice were only gradually understood