Didn’t see that coming

Talk about ironic. Wise people stashed an emergency supply of seeds in a vault buried in permafrost within the Arctic Circle, in case humanity ever needed it. Only it turns out the permafrost isn’t perma. We done melted it.

It was designed as an impregnable deep-freeze to protect the world’s most precious seeds from any global disaster and ensure humanity’s food supply forever. But the Global Seed Vault, buried in a mountain deep inside the Arctic circle, has been breached after global warming produced extraordinary temperatures over the winter, sending meltwater gushing into the entrance tunnel.

The vault is on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen and contains almost a million packets of seeds, each a variety of an important food crop. When it was opened in 2008, the deep permafrost through which the vault was sunk was expected to provide “failsafe” protection against “the challenge of natural or man-made disasters”.

But since then we have learned just how damn fast permafrost can melt.

But soaring temperatures in the Arctic at the end of the world’s hottest ever recorded year led to melting and heavy rain, when light snow should have been falling. “It was not in our plans to think that the permafrost would not be there and that it would experience extreme weather like that,” said Hege Njaa Aschim, from the Norwegian government, which owns the vault.

It never is in our plans. It was not in our plans to destroy the climate we evolved in by driving around in our awesome cars and flying around on our awesome planes, but it happened anyway. We clearly don’t know enough to live the way we do.

The meltwater didn’t actually reach the vault (this time), and the seeds are safe for now. But scary warning is scary.

But the breach has questioned the ability of the vault to survive as a lifeline for humanity if catastrophe strikes. “It was supposed to [operate] without the help of humans, but now we are watching the seed vault 24 hours a day,” Aschim said. “We must see what we can do to minimise all the risks and make sure the seed bank can take care of itself.”

They don’t know if last year’s high temperatures on Spitsbergen were a one-off or the new normal.

“The question is whether this is just happening now, or will it escalate?” said Aschim. The Svalbard archipelago, of which Spitsbergen is part, has warmed rapidly in recent decades, according to Ketil Isaksen, from Norway’s Meteorological Institute.

“The Arctic and especially Svalbard warms up faster than the rest of the world. The climate is changing dramatically and we are all amazed at how quickly it is going,” Isaksen told Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet.

They’re digging trenches to divert meltwater away from the entrance tunnel, and…hoping for the best.

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