The doomsday seed vault in Norway is getting a $13 million upgrade designed to protect its priceless cache of seeds from the rising threat of climate change.
The work on the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, located nearly 400 feet beneath the earth’s surface inside a coal mine, was announced Monday as the international facility celebrated its 10th anniversary and its holding of more than 1 million seed samples.
The facility, which is fully funded by the Norwegian government, offers any government access to seeds in case of natural or man-made disaster. The concept was successfully tested in 2015, with a seed withdraw to help Syria re-establish crops wiped out by the country’s civil war.
The upgrades will include a concrete access tunnel, a service building for emergency power and refrigerating units, as well as other electrical equipment that will emit heat through the tunnel, Norway’s government said in a statement.
When it opened in 2008, the Global Seed Vault was seen as an impenetrable fortress guarding a collection of seeds essential to the world's food supply. But extraordinary temperatures in the Arctic early last year left glacial meltwater streaming into the vault's entryway, forcing Statsbygg, the agency that operates it, to take new steps to waterproof the 300-foot-long entrance tunnel. The repository, originally designed to stand at the ready without human intervention, is also now monitored 24 hours a day.
On Monday, more than 76,000 new seed samples ― each containing about 500 seeds ― were added to the vault’s collection, bringing the total of seed samples in storage to more than 1 million. The vault has the capacity for more than 4.5 million seed samples, according to its website.
“It is simply impressive that 1 million seed samples from all over the world have now found their way to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault,” Norway’s minister of agriculture and food, Jon Georg Dale, said in a statement. “It confirms the important role of the seed vault as a worldwide insurance for food supply for future generations and an ever-growing population.”
After discovering the flooded entryway last year, the Norwegian government began actively monitoring the state of the permafrost on the archipelago of Svalbard where the vault is located. By all accounts, they’ll continue to have their work cut out for them since climate change continues to warm the arctic in unprecedented ways.