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Earth The Almighty Buck

Multi-Million Dollar Upgrade Planned To Secure 'Failsafe' Arctic Seed Vault (theguardian.com) 53

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: The Global Seed Vault, built in the Arctic as an impregnable deep freeze for the world's most precious food seeds, is to undergo a multi-million dollar upgrade after water from melting permafrost flooded its access tunnel. No seeds were damaged but the incident undermined the original belief that the vault would be a "failsafe" facility, securing the world's food supply forever. Now the Norwegian government, which owns the vault, has committed $4.4 million to improvements. [T]he vault's planners had not anticipated the extreme warm weather seen recently at the end of the world's hottest ever recorded year. "The background to the technical improvements is that the permafrost has not established itself as planned," said a government statement. "A group will investigate potential solutions to counter the increased water volumes resulting from a wetter and warmer climate on Svalbard." One option could be to replace the access tunnel, which slopes down towards the vault's main door, carrying water towards the seeds. A new upward sloping tunnel would take water away from the vault. An initial $1.6 million will be spent on investigating ways to improve the access tunnel, with the group's conclusions delivered in spring 2018. "They are going in with an open mind to find a good solution," said Aschim. "$4.4 million is for all the improvements we are doing now." The vault cost $9 million to build.
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Multi-Million Dollar Upgrade Planned To Secure 'Failsafe' Arctic Seed Vault

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    "impregnable deep freeze" ... "[T]he vault's planners had not anticipated the extreme warm weather seen recently..."

    Feels like a bit of an design oversight for a "failsafe" to only work if everything is going fine.

    • As I mentioned last time this little gem came up..

      Just dig out the first 20 meters of the tunnel to slope downwards?
      The ceiling doesnt matter, it can slope up, there may be very minor water trickle in that way.
      However, having a floor sloping upwards (from the interior end..) was always pure incompetence.
      Easily rectified - would probably take a good solid week to achieve with no major impact on the sites operations.

      And yet, someone, they need to spend 1.6 million to 'investigate' this?
      I guess its a nice tast

      • by jandersen ( 462034 ) on Wednesday June 14, 2017 @04:16AM (#54615497)

        It is both sad and embarrassing to see how all the anti-environmentalists and the arm-chair philosophers join forces (again) to start kicking, when their perceived enemy of the moment is apparently lying down. Maybe you can elaborate on your own expertise in major construction work in the high Arctic? I think it is pretty likely that whoever built this site were qualified for the job, so I will go with their opinion on the matter over yours any time of the day. Permafrost melting isn't exactly a new, surprising phenomenon, and both the Russians, the Norwegians and the Canadians are aware of the issues and will no doubt have taken that into the totality of their considerations.

        The world's seed banks are of huge importance. Not only are we losing bio-diversity very fast at the moment, but we are also losing genetic variety in all our food crops, which makes us more vulnerable to emerging plant-diseases, pests etc. As just one example, take the banana: nearly all the bananas we see in supermarkets come from the Cavendish variety, which is now under serious threat from a fungus disease. And calling it a variety is probably a bit of a misnomer - Cavendish bananas don't produce seed (or only very rarely), and all the plants are clones of just 1 original plant, so they are genetically identical. Whatever kills one is likely to kill all. The seed banks are there to preserve the genetic variety of food crops, to protect us against something like this happening to wheat, rice, maize, potatoes etc etc. Even if you are meat eater, you don't want to loose the crops that feed the cattle that feed you.

        And we are becoming increasingly aware of the fact that we can ill afford to lose the natural eco-systems, since much or even most of what we grow for crops, depends on them being at least somewhat intact; so the seed vaults' work in preserving wild plant species is also very important. This is definitely not just a bunch of tree-huggers wasting tax-payers' money. If you are looking for waste of tax-payers' money, look no further than to propping up an unnecessary coal industry or giving tax breaks to the wealthy.

        • Which is trickier: Building a vault to protect against global warming, and not having its entryway freeze when the surface gets a little warmer, or re-engineering the global economy to reduce GHG emissions without starving more people?

          Excuse us skeptics if we think the second one is harder, and that blinding incompetence in the first suggests that the people in question might not do any better on the second.

        • Potato. Native to Chile, Peru, Bolivia, with a wide genetic variety finely tuned to local conditions.
          Wheat. A grass, with wide natural diversity expanded by human efforts.
          Rice. A grass seed, substantially improved in diversity and nutritional value by human development.
          Maize (corn). There are a large number of varieties of corn organized into at least 6 categories by their economic function. Corn is also increasing its genetic variety due to human research into better strains.

          While seed banks are a nice

    • by dcw3 ( 649211 )

      Or a failure of "Titanic" proportions?

  • by hcs_$reboot ( 1536101 ) on Wednesday June 14, 2017 @02:30AM (#54615203)
    and those seeds will make a very enjoyable jungle!
  • I find it absurd they did not take into account melting permafrost, current temperatures are not even close to historical highs we have been able to determine. It was always going to get warmer than this at some point, how could they not account for any melting?

    I wish instead they had build somewhere a bit less transient and more geologically stable.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The very definition of permafrost is that it is continuously frozen. I blame Trump.

    • Yeah: it debunks the whole idea of global warming being some massive conspiracy doesn't it - or do the time travelling zombies behind the global warming myth forget to send these guys a memo?
    • by Mascot ( 120795 )

      What do you mean? The location was picked _because_ it is geologically stable. There's no tectonic activity, it's at high enough altitude to remain above sea level even if the ice caps should fully melt, and permafrost safeguards against refrigeration failure.

      The recent flooding of the entrance was caused by surface melt, not thawing of the subterranean permafrost surrounding the vault itself. Once the water entered the tunnel and flowed deeper, it froze. Even if it should heat up enough up there to kill of

    • They did take into account higher temperatures. With higher temperatures comes less buildup of permafrost which is less likely to melt. What they didn't take into account was a few uncharacteristically warm days amid a time of thick snow and frost causing a sudden melt.

      Weather != climate.

  • by Troed ( 102527 ) on Wednesday June 14, 2017 @02:32AM (#54615217) Homepage Journal

    “We did this calculation; if all the ice in the world melted—Greenland, Arctic, Antarctic, everything—and then we had the world's largest recorded tsunami right in front of the seed vault. So, very high sea levels and the worlds largest Tsunami. What would happen to the seed vault?” Fowler says. “We found that the seed vault was somewhere between a five and seven story building above that point. It might not help the road leading up to the seed vault, but the seeds themselves would be ok."

    http://www.popsci.com/seed-vau... [popsci.com]

    The designers knew the difference between "hottest year ever _recorded_" (that is, within the last few hundred years) and the hottest years _ever_. The arctic has been a lot warmer than now during _this_ interglacial (source: Marcott et.al 2013) - not to mention the previous interglacial, the Eemian.

  • ... to such a poor underdevloped country like Norway.

  • Couldn't they just do the same things people up north do to keep the snow from flooding their basements, install a pump? Maybe a few pumps, so there's some redundancy in the system?

    But no... they need a multi-million dollar new tunnel. And here in the good old USA, the city won't even fix the fricken potholes.

    • by Kiuas ( 1084567 )

      Couldn't they just do the same things people up north do to keep the snow from flooding their basements, install a pump? Maybe a few pumps, so there's some redundancy in the system?

      They're using pumps as redundancy now, but that's really not really how the vault is supposed to work. It's intended to survive without human maintenance in case of global catastrophes. Quoting the article:

      “The whole reason for the Global Seed Vault in Svalbard in the permafrost area is it has to be self sufficient, in case

  • Slight disadvantage (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Hognoxious ( 631665 ) on Wednesday June 14, 2017 @03:26AM (#54615377) Homepage Journal

    A new upward sloping tunnel would take water away from the vault.

    The downside is that you have to enter from Australia.

  • by Togden ( 4914473 ) on Wednesday June 14, 2017 @03:42AM (#54615427)
    They should have given the design contract to a British Civil Nuclear Engineering firm. I've worked for a few of them, every decision is made wearing tinfoil hats, it's pretty bad. I've seen designs that would work safely regardless of any nearly impossible weather conditions, they then added additional independent safety features so that it would work for something several times worse. I can't see how they would have missed this particular hiccup, it would have had the ramp falling away from the door, a pumped drainage solution as backup and nearby emergency submersible vessels to gain entry after the ice caps have melted.
    • by tantrum ( 261762 )

      maybe they thought that i the permafrost thawed in that area, the human population on this planet was about to be fucked anyways - so that there would not really be that relevant to keep some seeds :p

  • by Anonymous Coward

    That is NOT why it was build and nobody believes it can do that. The reason it was built was to make sure the biodiversity wasn't lost is a Monsanto single strain catastrophe. This place doe NOT have enough seeds to work as out seed for the entire planet.

  • What kind of quarterly gains are they going to get from a seed vault? How stupid are they?! When large bands of the Earth turn to deserts from climate change it will be money that everyone wants! ;)

    (nb4 "*whoosh!*" comment response)

  • You cannot defeat entropy in the long run. All victories are temporary and require effort.
  • They build the seed vault to protect the Earth's plants in the event of an environmental disaster ... like climate change.

    However, the vault, itself, isn't immune to the effects of said climate change.

    Somebody wasn't thinking.

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