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Permafrost melts, floods arctic seed vault



May 22, 2017

Image: Erlend Bjørtvedt

A breach in the Global Seed Vault, Norway, deep inside the Arctic Circle, has raised concerned about its longevity after unprecedented winter temperatures saw water flood its entrance. 

Meltwater recently gushed through the entrance to the vault on the island of Spitzbergen, which holds close to a million packets of seed of important food crops, designed to be a bulwark against natural and man-made disasters. The permafrost that melted was actually the reason why the vault was built in the location in the first place, as it was thought to provide a level of natural protection that would be difficult to breach.

Hege Njaa Aschim, spokesperson for the Norwegian government, which owns the vault, said:

“It was not in our plans to think that the permafrost would not be there and that it would experience extreme weather like that”.


But thanks to the hottest year ever recorded and soaring Arctic temperatures, what should have fallen as light snow turned to heavy rain instead and inundated the vault.

The water froze before it had a chance to reach the seeds, freezing in the entrance where it was able to removed. But the breach has called into question the vault’s longterm viability, as it was originally designed to store the seeds with no human intervention or upkeep.

The Norwegian government is now watching the vault 24 hours a day and taking action to make sure the seeds are safe into the future. A close eye is being kept on temperatures as well, with the government concerned this winter’s soaring temperatures, which were 7°C above average in the region, might not be an aberration.

“The question is whether this is just happening now, or will it escalate?”

Hege Njaa Aschim


Major works are now underway to waterproof the 100m entrance to the vault, as well as digging channels to divert any future permafrost melt.



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