The Doomsday Vault Floods, But Humanity Is Still Safe

Scientists are concerned about the World Seed Bank on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen. Due to the extremely high temperatures and rain late last year, water flowed in the entrance of the vault.

That water then quickly froze. Scientists now are questioning the vulnerability of the bank.

The seeds are stored in a safe deep beneath a layer of so-called permafrost, which until recently it was assumed that it would be frozen in perpetuity.

Popular Science spoke with Cary Fowler, one of the creators of the vault to see just how serious the situation really is. “Flooding is probably not quite the right word to use in this case,” he told them. According to Fowler, a little bit of water has made its way into the entrance every year. Though he wasn’t present at the vault when the ‘flooding’ occurred this year, he insists that it’s a pretty routine occurrence.

“The tunnel was never meant to be water tight at the front, because we didn’t think we would need that,” he tells Pop Sci. Basically, there’s a 100-meter tunnel that serves as a walkway into the mountain and it goes downhill. Before you reach the vault doors, the ground shifts uphill. This little area allows water to collect and two pumps can evacuate it. Hege Njaa Aschim, a Norwegian government official, told the Guardian, “A lot of water went into the start of the tunnel and then it froze to ice, so it was like a glacier when you went in.” And well, that’s not really a crisis. In fact, according to Fowler, if the water were to make it all the way uphill it would get hit with temperatures around minus 18 degrees celcius, freeze, and create a new barrier.

The entrance of the international gene bank Svalbard Global Seed Vault (SGSV), JUNGE, HEIKO/AFP/Getty Images)
The entrance of the international gene bank Svalbard Global Seed Vault (SGSV), JUNGE, HEIKO/AFP/Getty Images)

The World seed Bank was established in the case of a huge disaster yet again to plant seeds. The safe is located at a depth of 120 meters in a mountain close to Longyearbyen, the capital of the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen. Include the Center for Genetic Resources in Wageningen, Netherlands supplies seed to the bank.