A “doomsday” seed vault meant to outlast catastrophe was flooded because of climate change

2017 has been quite the year so far, hasn’t it! I personally think I’ve had my fill of dramatic irony, but the world isn’t letting up. And fate’s next target is the “doomsday” Svalbard Global Seed Vault, which has fallen victim to climate change.

How so? Well, its supposedly impenetrable and totally secure facility flooded earlier this week.

A little bit of history on the seed vault. All around the world, there are seed and gene banks that store bits of earth’s incredible, but fading, biodiversity. The Svalbard vault keeps copies of plant seeds from just about every country on the planet. That makes it a plant ark (think Noah) for the planet’s vegetation — valuable in case of catastrophic global events.

There are over 1700 such banks in the world, but the Svalbard bank is probably the biggest. It houses over 880,000 samples in a comically stark facility, built into the Norwegian island Spitsbergen. The reason for the ice? Even if power shuts off, the area is still cold enough to keep seeds frozen. The seed bank is meant to outlast all kinds of disasters, including the rising threat of climate change.

According to the Svalbard bank’s website, it’s “protected from flooding” because it’s well above sea level. But unusually high winter temperatures causes some of the area’s permafrost to melt, and water got inside of the seed bank’s entry tunnel. The flooding didn’t make it to the seeds, but this doesn’t necessarily bode well for a future where humans don’t have to monitor this far-flung seed bank.