May 23, 2017

23/05/2017: Improvements of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is the world’s backup for crop collections. It currently safeguards more than 930,000 different varieties. It has been reported that the Seed Vault has seen water intrusion due to melting permofrost.

The Royal Ministry of Agriculture and Food in Norway, the Crop Trust, and NordGen would like to assure seed depositors and the public that the seeds are completely safe and no damage has been done to the facility. The Royal Ministry of Agriculture and Food and Statsbygg, Norway, is taking appropriate measures to ensure the protection of the Seed Vault and improve the construction to prevent future incidents. Globally, the Seed Vault is, and will continue to be, the safest backup of crop diversity.

After 9 years of operation, Svalbard Global Seed Vault is facing technical improvements in connection with water intrusion in the outer part of the access tunnel because the permafrost has not established itself as projected.

Operation of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is a collaboration between several players. The seed vault is owned by the Norwegian government and administered by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food (LMD). Statsbygg is responsible for the administration of the physical installation and the technical operation of the vault.

LMD has entered into a 10-year operating agreement with the Nordic Genetic Resource Center (NordGen), which is responsible for the operations of the seed vault and the International foundation Global Crop Diversity Trust (GCDT), which is contributing financially.
  • The seeds in the seed vault have never been threatened and will remain safe during implementation of these measures. 
  • The measures are being carried out to provide additional security to the seed vault, based on a precautionary ("better safe than sorry" approach).
  • The measures will provide the most optimal maintenance and surveillance of the installation.

Description of the measures:
  1. Removal of heat sources in the access tunnel will protect against water intrusion resulting from potential climate change. 
  2. Drainage ditches will be constructed on the mountainside to prevent melt water from platâfjellet accumulating around the access tunnel and to protect against water intrusion resulting from any climate change. 
  3. The construction of waterproof walls inside the tunnel will provide additional protection for the actual vault. 
  4. Alternatives for a new access tunnel to the seed vault will be explored with the aim to improve safety in a long term perspective. 
  5. Statsbygg is carrying out a research and development project that will monitor the permafrost on Svalbard. 
  6. Statsbygg has moved the transformer station out of the tunnel. This provides safer operation, easier maintenance and has removed a heat source. 
The seeds will remain safe during implementation of the measures.

The seed vault has been considered a success. It has widespread support and a well functioning operation. Stasbygg is now implementing measures that will continue to protect the seed vault in the future.

Some improvement measures are being implemented to prevent the season-dependent intrusion of water into the seed vault’s access tunnel. When water intrudes into the outer part of the seed vault, the water is immediately pumped out again by pumps that work around the clock.

Any melting of the permafrost has a very long-term perspective, cf. expert statements during the planning phase. In order to be “better safe than sorry,” Statsbygg is carrying out a research and development project that will follow the development of the permafrost on Svalbard.

The seed vault on Svalbard is a very safe installation for the preservation of copies of the world’s seeds. The seeds are stored deep inside the mountain, which is kept frozen by both permafrost and artificial freezing. Statsbygg provides 24-hour surveillance of the technical installation to ensure the seeds are safe. When water intrudes into the outer part of the seed vault, the water is immediately pumped out again by pumps that work around the clock. The effect of the measures will be continuously assessed in the coming years. If they are not sufficient, further and more extensive measures will be implemented.

The measures will be implemented from now to 2018.

For further questions on the improvements to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault please contact:
Statsbygg: Hege Naja Aschim, Communications Director, henr@statsbugg.no, tel: +4791370172


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