The site of the so-called ‘Doomsday vault’, designed to safeguard millions of the world’s most genetically important seed from nuclear war, asteroid strikes and other disasters, is at threat from climate change, a new report has warned.
Longyearbyen, the Arctic home of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, faces potentially devastating avalanches, rockfalls, and floods over the coming decades as it warms faster than any other town on earth, according to the report Climate in Svalbard 2100.
“There are already real problems because of the increasing risk of avalanches and landslides,” said Professor Inger Hanssen-Bauer, head of the Norwegian Climate Centre and the report’s lead author.
The high temperatures in recent years have already partially melted the permafrost on which the facility’s access tunnel is built, flooding it with water. The vault’s operators have had to build additional flood defences, install new waterproof walls, and dig drainage ditches.
Over the remainder of the century, the report predicts that the average temperature in the town will increase by a further 8.3 ℃, following recent warming of about one degree a decade.
When the Svalbard Global Seed Vault was opened in 2008, Norway’s Svalbard archipelago was judged the safest place on earth to hold seeds of the world’s most important crops, due to its far-flung location 600 miles north of mainland Norway and its low mean temperatures.
The facility is buried 120m inside a mountain, and its cooling system has been designed to use the surrounding natural permafrost, snow and ice to ensure that the temperature remains at at least -4 ℃.
If its cooling system remains operational, it is designed to store the seeds at -18 ℃, cool enough for them to remain viable for 1,000 years.
Since it opened, more than a million seeds from 6,005 different species have been deposited in its vaults.