The vault was built in a mountain on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen in the Svalbard archipelago, 800 miles away from the North Pole. The surrounding permafrost and stable tectonics made the location seem ideal when the vault opened in 2008, but less than a decade later, climate change has undermined assumptions that the seeds can remain secure. The island saw temperatures seven degrees Celsius (or 12 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than normal, leading to rain and melted ice when light snow was expected.
“It was not in our plans to think that the permafrost would not be there and that it would experience extreme weather like that,” the Norwegian government’s Hege Njaa Aschim told The Guardian.
The meltwater flooded the entryway but didn’t make it to the vault, sparing the over 800,000 seeds stored inside. To protect it against future water intrusions, the station’s caretakers are waterproofing and removing electronics from the 100-meter tunnel leading into the mountain vault along with digging trenches to channel meltwater and rain away, according to The Guardian. They’ve installed pumps in the seed room should it ever be breached again.