Seedy sensationalism: ‘Doomsday seed vault in the Arctic has FLOODED,’ headlines scream. Not so much – and it’s old news


“Arctic stronghold of world’s seeds flooded after permafrost melts.” The headline quickly made it the top-read story at The Guardian’s website Saturday and spread like wildfire to other sites.

Naturally climate change skeptics everywhere screamed “fake news!” And for once they were right – if not quite in the way they meant.


The room where seeds are actually stored in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is about 100 meters inside the mountain, behind a thick and heavily iced-over door. Photo by Matthias Heyde / Norwegian Ministry of Food, Fisheries and Agriculture.

Record rainfall last fall caused water to seep into the entryway of the vault – far from the seeds in another sealed room 100 meters further into the mountain – freezing into ice on the walkway and causing problems with a power transformer.

Ongoing record heat during much of the winter has continued to present adverse conditions. While most facts eventually were found in The Guardian’s story, somehow that got interpreted by headline writers as “The ‘Doomsday Vault’ is in huge trouble.”

“Humanity’s future is threatened by a major development on a remote Norwegian island that is home to a ‘doomsday vault,'” exclaims the first sentence of the accompanying story at Building a Better World News.

In reality, those responsible for vault moved the transformer outside the entrance, are working to make the entrance waterproof and digging trenches to drain more meltwater away from the facility.

Or, as a commenter using the name Uncle Lincoln wrote on one news site:

“(The headline) sounds better than Climate Change causes Puddle of Water to form in Vault Lobby. Man Slips, is Unharmed. Puddle Mopped Up.”

Still, the leak itself was enough for many articles and commenters to question the vault’s engineering – which won a national award when it opened – with readers in particular offering it up as an example of the lunacy of climate scientists and Scandinavian politicians.

“Maybe try storing them somewhere hot and dry instead of wet and socialist,” wrote a commenter using the name CoramDeo in a response to an article by the Daily Mail of London.

But Cary Fowler, the vault’s founder, told Popular Science small amounts of water have leaked into the vault every year and “flooding is probably not quite the right word to use” in describing the larger seepage last fall.

“The tunnel was never meant to be water tight at the front, because we didn’t think we would need that,” he said.

The vault has been the subject of conspiracy theories and falsehoods since it opened, including those claiming the Illuminati (or Bill Gates and Monsanto) are using it to control the world’s food supply or have secret knowledge of an impending apocalypse. So even if some (but definitely not all) of the media has updated their “flood” coverage to reflect reality, some are already moving on to what’s next.

“The Doomsday Vault Isn’t Flooded But We’re All Still Going to Die,” a headline at Gizmodo predicts.

“The vault’s fine,” the article notes. “The apocalypse is still ticking along nicely.”