Global warming threatens global seed bank in Norway's Arctic


Electric-car rally in Geiranger, Norway [Image: Norsk elbilforening via Flickr]

Electric-car rally in Geiranger, Norway [Image: Norsk elbilforening via Flickr]

Politicians may argue over the academic merits of global warming theories. But the arguments are no longer just academic.

A recent report by the Norwegian Center for Climate Services shows that global warming in the Arctic region may pose a very direct threat to human well-being.

As with most climate studies, the Climate in Svalbard 2100 report starts with the premise that the effects of climate change are most apparent, and soonest, at the poles, the coldest regions on Earth. 

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Not coincidentally, Svalbard is home to the Svalbard Seed Bank, holding copies of the world's reserves of crop seed known as the Doomsday Vault. It's literally a survival back-up plan in case the fundamental crops that sustain human life are compromised. It was founded in 2008 as a backup plan against global catastrophes that could wipe out food crops, such as crop, cattle or human disease; pestilence; waror even climate change. It houses nearly 1 million packets of seeds from around the world, for crops such as rice and wheat, as well as endangered species such as the Bermuda bean.

The seed bank is located in a tunnel under a mountain in the village of Longyearbyen, 800 miles from the North Pole. It's known as likely the northernmost city on Earth. That gave it the perfect frozen conditions to house such a seed bank. Norway is also a politically stable country whose far north is not prone to natural disasters such as earthquakes or volcanoes.

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It may, however, be prone to melting.

A report by CNN notes that buildings in the village of Longyearbyen have been sinking into the mud as permafrost melts, and that the permafrost around the cave's entrance tunnel has never refrozen since seed bank's construction.

Heavy rains in 2016 flooded the tunnel, though the water did not reach the seeds.

Norway spent $11.5 million last year to rebuild the tunnel, transferring cooling equipment outside the tunnel and using new cooling mats to help refreeze the permafrost outside the tunnelusing more of the fossil energy that's contributing to global warming to protect humans' ability to adapt to its effects.

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The Norwegian report predicts that the temperature in Longyearbyen will rise by 13 to 18 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century and rainfall will increase by 45 to 65 percent. That would threaten the seed bank.

The only way to avoid that warming, according to scientists, is to stop burning fossil fuels in cars, powerplants, and other parts of the economy.

Norway is known as the leading country in the world for electric-car sales per capita, and has set a date to ban sales of new internal-combustion cars. For the Doomsday Vault in northern Norway to survive, the rest of the world can't follow suit soon enough.

 
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