Heat causes trouble for Svalbard’s seed vault

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Warmer weather and extreme amounts of water cause problems in the entrance area of Svalbard International Seed Vault. Repairs are ongoing and long-term, Statsbygg says. (Hollan Studio / Statsbygg)
Warmer weather and extreme amounts of water cause problems in the entrance area of Svalbard International Seed Vault. Repairs are ongoing and long-term, Statsbygg says. (Hollan Studio / Statsbygg)

The unusually warm weather in Svalbard has created additional challenges for the global seed vault in there.

At present, water in the entry area of the seed repository in Norway’s Arctic archipelago is causing problems.

Svalbard’s global seed vault hosts seeds of more than 4,000 different plant species from around the world. Statsbygg, the Norwegian government’s public sector administration company in construction and property affairs, operates the vault, and says improvements are a continual and long-lasting project.

Communications Director Hege Njaa Aschim of Statsbygg tells High North News that the rehabilitation process started last fall. At the same time a long-term project for accommodating further temperature increases began.

“The problems with water seeping through have arisen in the entrance areas, among others as a consequence of the high temperatures that Svalbard has seen over the past few years,” Aschim tells High North News.

Water seeps in at the entrance area and slowly trickles downwards and inwards in the “Svalbard pipe,” approximately 10 meters inside the mountain. There it freezes and thus causes an ice problem for those who work in and with the vault.

“This water is, of course, not meant to be there,” Aschim says. “Therefore we have, among other, removed a transformer, which is a source of heating, from this area. We have also conducted measuring in the mountain, in order to create a waterproof barrier across the vault and the entrance area.”

She points out that the water and ice problems do not threaten the vault itself, which lies deeper inside the mountain.

“However, there are obviously challenges in connection with the Svalbard permafrost,” she says. “We cannot tell yet whether the climate changes cause this to continue and increase, but we have to take that possibility into account.

“Thus, we have to plan for the extreme. We are responsible for the seeds of the world, so you can definitely say that we are worried about the climate. But so far the challenges we have with water seeping through are manageable,” says Aschim.