Arctic ‘Doomsday’ Vault, Meant To Protect Against Disasters, Gets Flooded After Permafrost Melts

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, more commonly known as the “Doomsday Vault,” houses more than 800,000 important crop seeds, as well as several tree samples, that humanity would need in order to survive should a global natural or man-made disaster occur.

The vault itself is located 400 feet under the Arctic permafrost and is strong enough to survive even a nuclear holocaust, but the Norwegian government, who is in charge of the vault, did not take into consideration that the ice surrounding the stronghold would melt and flood the facility, which is exactly what just happened.

None of seeds stored in the vault seem to have been compromised, but the people in charge of the vault learned a valuable lesson about challenging nature … and making Titanic-like claims.

The Doomsday Vault’s Weakness

The seed vault is located in the Arctic so that it is as far away from human activity as possible and the permafrost — which is supposed to be permanently frozen — acts as a natural freezer so that the deposited seeds would remain frozen even if the vault shuts down.

Statsbygg, the Norwegian government’s public sector administration company in construction and property affairs, however, neglected to consider the possibility of its failsafe becoming compromised due to global warming.

“It was not in our plans to think that the permafrost would not be there and that it would experience extreme weather like that,” Statsbygg Communications Director Hege Njaa Aschim said.

Flooding In The Vault

According to reports, the seeds within the Svalbard global seed vault have not been compromised. The water that flooded the vault from the thawed permafrost, however, froze inside the vault and workers had to be called in to pick at the ice.

Cary Fowler, who helped design the vault, said that some water from thawed permafrost enters the facility from the front entrance every year but it never comes close to the seed vault. This is because a 100-meter long tunnel, a downward slope, two pumping stations to remove water, and an uphill slope were constructed between the front entrance and the entrance to the seed vault.

“If there was a worst case scenario where there was so much water, or the pumping systems failed, that it made its way uphill to the seed vault, then it would encounter minus 18 [degrees celsius] and freeze again,” Fowler explained.

Finding Solutions

As a result of this incident, the Norwegian government is taking action to ensure that it doesn’t happen again and to further minimize the possibility of compromising the seeds stored in the vault, even against the effects of climate change.

“We have to find solutions. It is a big responsibility and we take it very seriously. We are doing this for the world,” Aschim said.

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