The doomsday vault that's supposed to store every known crop on the planet is in danger

Photo: Bjoertvedt/Wikimedia

If everything goes wrong — if because of disaster, climate change, or nuclear war, life as we know it comes to an end, with parts of the earth rendered inhospitable with widespread environmental devastation, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is a resource that could come to our rescue.

Hidden approximately 400 feet deep inside a mountain on a remote island between mainland Norway and the North Pole, the vault stores valuable seeds from crops all over the world. Buried in a mountainside in the Arctic, it’s supposed to be protected and supposed to naturally stay at a safe temperature to store all those seeds.

But extreme temperatures in the Arctic this past winter — combined with heavy rain instead of snow — led to melting permafrost that gushed into the tunnel leading into the vault, according to a report in The Guardian, raising questions about whether or not the doomsday vault will survive a warming planet.

“It was not in our plans to think that the permafrost would not be there and that it would experience extreme weather like that,” Hege Njaa Aschim, of the Norweigan government, which controls the vault, 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.”

The water didn’t travel all the way down into the vault itself, which is still safe, and they were able to chip all of the ice out the entryway.

Here’s what the vault looks like inside — and why the administrators are now worried about the potentially devastating effects of warming:

Svalbard is the northernmost place in the world that still has scheduled flights, according to The Crop Trust, the group in charge of the global seed-bank system.

Google Earth/Tech Insider

Source: The Crop Trust

It's more than 400 feet above sea level, and there's little moisture in the air. But the Arctic is warming far faster than the rest of the world -- faster than anyone expected.


Source: The Crop Trust

The Svalbard vault is the central fail-safe for all those seed banks. If it fails, there's no backup.

Now, researchers are waiting to see if the Arctic will be hit by extreme heat again next winter, melting permafrost again.


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