Arctic Stronghold of World’s Seeds Flooded After Permafrost Melts

Damian Carrington, reporting for The Guardian:

It was designed as an impregnable deep-freeze to protect the world’s most precious seeds from any global disaster and ensure humanity’s food supply forever. But the Global Seed Vault, buried in a mountain deep inside the Arctic circle, has been breached after global warming produced extraordinary temperatures over the winter, sending meltwater gushing into the entrance tunnel.

The big takeaway from this should be that climate change truly is a threat to civilization. But, I have to say, that melting permafrost wasn’t taken into consideration during the design of this vault seems like a glaring oversight.

Update: Looks like The Guardian might have shamelessly sensationalized this story. Mary Beth Griggs, reporting for Popular Science:

“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. Then there’s another barrier [the ice] for entry into the seed vault,” Fowler says. In other words, any water that floods into the tunnel has to make it 100 meters downhill, then back uphill, then overwhelm the pumping systems, and then manage not to freeze at well-below-freezing temperatures. Otherwise, there’s no way liquid is getting into the seed bank — so the seeds are probably safe. […]

Still worried? Maybe this will help you exhale: “We did this calculation; if all the ice in the world melted — Greenland, Arctic, Antarctic, everything — and then we had the world’s largest recorded tsunami right in front of the seed vault. So, very high sea levels and the worlds largest Tsunami. What would happen to the seed vault?” Fowler says. “We found that the seed vault was somewhere between a five and seven story building above that point. It might not help the road leading up to the seed vault, but the seeds themselves would be OK.”

Sounds like the vault itself is designed to survive a climate apocalypse — it’s just the entry that isn’t.

Saturday, 20 May 2017