This Hidden Arctic Chamber Could Be All That Stands Between Human Civilization and Extinction

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault opened nearly a decade ago after a year of construction totaling $9 million, paid for by the Norwegian government. Now run by a U.N. body, the vault protects food crops in case of an emergency of cataclysmic proportions.

"In the event that the world destroys itself... through some sort of terrible catastrophe... there is one insurance policy," Vox Borders correspondent Johnny Wharris explained on his tour of Svalbard.

"The seed vault is a place where the world has stored the genetic information of thousands and thousands of plants and crops," he explained. "In some scenario that the world is not able to facilitate the growth of past crops, they will come to the seed vault." 

The seed vault houses 135,000 different genetic deposits.

"[But] it's not just a deposit of seeds," noted Wharris. "It's actually a deposit of genetic information; it's ingredients that scientists could use to engineer new strains of plants, new strains of DNA that could be suitable for whatever state the world's in."

Last fall, the Norwegian government-led organization Statsbygg upgraded the repository after unseasonably high temperatures caused water to leak through its entrance.

“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 Statsbygg spokesperson Hege Njaa Aschim of the additional $4.4 million cost

"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,” she told the Guardian.

Climate change has forced experts to reevaluate how best to monitor the vault going forward. 

“To be sure, and to take precautions in case something happens, we are [implementing additional security] measures [24 hours a day] now to protect the seeds from anything," Aschim said of the facility, which had been constructed to operate on its own.

"The lesson from this flooding drama," concluded Wharris, "is that as this whole region warms two times faster than the rest of the world, it has these crazy consequences that happen seemingly overnight." 

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