The Arctic 'doomsday vault'

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The Arctic 'doomsday vault' Pixabay.com

Deep inside a mountain on a remote island in the Svalbard archipelago, halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole, lies the Global Seed Vault.

It is a fail-safe seed storage facility, built to stand the test of time — and the challenge of natural or man-made disasters. The Seed Vault represents the world’s largest collection of crop diversity.

Opened in 2008, the facility on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen currently protects over 1 million seed packets containing around 4000 of the world's most important crop species from any possible threats to our managed ecosystems, from asteroid strike to war.

The vault is a back-up of back-ups held all around the world, with the fact it's buried 1300 kilometers (over 800 miles) beyond the Arctic circle providing not just a remote stronghold, but a cold, dry environment that would continue to keep them safe if the power ever fizzled out, according to ScienceAlert.

Without electricity the vault is still expected to stay at around -5 degrees Celsius (23 degrees Fahrenheit) for the next two centuries, though with generators running it's kept at a numbing -18 degrees Celsius (-0.4 Fahrenheit). 2016 was the hottest year on the books since global temperatures were first noted down in 1880, a record was broken just twelve months after the previous one had been set in 2015. Things weren't helped by an El Niño event, resulting in high temperatures that have melted permafrost in the Arctic circle and turned Spitsbergen's usual later winter dusting of snow into heavy rain.

"It was not in our plans to think that the permafrost would not be there and that it would experience extreme weather like that," Hege Njaa Aschim from the Norwegian government told Damian Carrington from The Guardian. Rest assured the vault doesn't have a new underground swimming pool – it's buried about 122 meters (400 feet) into the side of a mountain with thick, solid concrete walls and a long entrance corridor sloping down, away from the facility's interior.

Yet water has breached that entrance, where it refroze and needed to be hacked out. What is concerning isn't so much the breach itself; even if it poured in, it would have to flow a fair way downhill, then up again, and fail to be removed by the pumping systems. Chances are it would freeze anyway, and form a barrier preventing more water from flooding inside. But the fact the vault should operate neatly without human intervention means any threats need to be taken seriously. And a water-tight entrance simply wasn't in the plans, writes Science Alert. 

 

Last modified on Sunday, 21 May 2017 14:37

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