The vault was built in a mountain on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen in the Svalbard archipelago, 800 miles away from the North Pole.
The vault aims to secure millions of seeds representing every important crop variety available in the world today. The seed collection, now numbering between 800,000 and 900,000 samples, is kept at a chilly temperature of minus-18 degrees Celsius, or about 0 degrees Fahrenheit.
Air temperature departures from average during the Arctic winter of 2016-17. “It was supposed to [operate] without the help of humans, but now we are watching the seed vault 24 hours a day”, Hege Njaa Aschim, a member of the Norwegian Government, told The Guardian.
The water subsequently “froze to ice, so it was like a glacier when you went in”, Hege Njaa Aschim, a communications staffer with the Norwegian government, told the United Kingdom newspaper. “But more importantly it is a collection of the traits found within the seeds: the genes that give one variety resistance to a particular pest and another variety tolerance for hot, dry weather”. It is a big responsibility and we take it very seriously. Seed stores could be at risk if such an event occurs again.
And all of this is happening as the melting of Arctic sea ice has hastened, threatening permafrost beneath roads and buildings from Alaska to Siberia.
The vault is situated on the island of Spitsbergen, in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, and opened almost a decade ago.
[Photo: Arterra/UIG/Getty Images] In an ironic twist, the Arctic is affected by the warming climate more drastically than the rest of the world.
Map of air temperature departure from avg. across the Arctic in December 2016, with an arrow pointing to Svalbard.
This pattern was partly due to a lack of sea ice across the Barents and Kara Seas, which provided a supply of moisture and warm air for these storms to tap into and draw into the central Arctic.
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).
The vault has been built 120 metres into a mountain, in a locale with cold temperatures and permafrost, in an effort to ensure that its storage rooms remain “naturally frozen” in case its electrical system shorts out. On Friday, he tweeted that if the Guardian report is true, he said, the vault must be relocated. The area where the vault is located is not in an area permanently surrounded by sea ice, for example.
In February, Spitsbergen recorded winter temperatures as high as 6.8C.
Ironically, the facility was funded by the Norwegian government because of the threat of climate change.
Past year was the hottest on record globally, with warmer winter temperatures in the Artic causing rainfalls and melting, the Guardian reported.