The government of Norway has announced plans for a $4.4 million USD (37 million NOK) upgrade to the Global Seed Vault in Svalbard, after record high temperatures caused the “failsafe” structure to flood earlier this year. While no samples were damaged in that event, the situation sparked concern that the facility would not be able to stand the test of time as originally intended.
Located 130 meters inside a mountain in the Arctic Svalbard archipelago, the vault was constructed as part of a worldwide initiative to protect global biodiversity by preserving the seeds of the world’s important food crops. The structure, which cost $9 million USD to build, was intended to be buried deep into the permafrost to protect against both natural and manmade disasters, but this year’s incident uncovered several design flaws that allowed water to breach the vault’s access tunnel.
“The background to the technical improvements is that the permafrost has not established itself as planned,” the government said in a statement. “A group will investigate potential solutions to counter the increased water volumes resulting from a wetter and warmer climate on Svalbard.”
An initial $1.6 million will be set aside for a comprehensive investigation of how to improve the tunnel, with conclusions set to be delivered in 2018. Early ideas include changing the direction of the tunnel’s slope to direct water away from the interior – a solution deemed unnecessary when the structure was originally built.
The Norwegian government’s spokeswoman for the vault, Hege Njaa Aschim, told the Guardian: “The construction was planned like that because it was practical as a way to go inside and it should not be a problem because of the permafrost keeping it safe. But we see now, when the permafrost is not established, maybe we should do something else with the tunnel, so that is why we have this project now.”
Several changes have already been made to the vault, including moving a heat-emitting transformer station to a location outside the tunnel. Other upgrades already in the works include the installation of drainage ditches around the vault and the construction of a waterproof wall inside the tunnel.
Said the government statement: “The measures form part of a long-term plan to provide additional security to the seed vault, based on a precautionary approach.”
Story via The Guardian.
Earlier this year, the Global Seed Vault in Svalbard was flooded after record high temperatures over the winter caused some of the permafrost surrounding the vault to melt, reports The Guardian . The building's entrance tunnel was flooded and then froze to create conditions "like a glacier" for those trying to enter.
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