Massive upgrade or mishap? 100M kroner overhaul proposed on seed vault’s 10th birthday – nearly triple original cost of ‘fix’

Those jokes about the so-called “flooding” of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault are no longer a laughing matter, as Norway’s government is “celebrating” the facility’s 10th birthday by proposing 100 million kroner in upgrades – nearly triple the originally projected cost of needed repairs and more than twice the 45 million kroner it cost to build the vault.


Delegates from international crop-related organizations deposit seeds in a ceremonial container during a summit Monday at The University Centre in Svalbard celebrating the 10-year anniversary of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Photo by Mark Sabbatini / Icepeople.

“The project includes the construction of a new, concrete-built access tunnel, as well as a service building to house emergency power and refrigerating units and other electrical equipment that emits heat through the tunnel,” a statement issued Feb. 23 by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food notes.

Much of that work was part of a 37-million-kroner planned upgrade that began last year with the establishment of drainage ditches to divert water away from the vault’s entrance. Seepage into the vault occurred since it opened, but the problem has become more significant in recent years due to a combination heavy precipitation and permafrost not refreezing as expected during colder months – both of which are attributed to climate change.

The leakage is not endangering the seeds themselves, which are in a large storage room 130 meters inside the mountain behind another thick and secure vault door. But water damaged electrical equipment inside the entryway and the icy surface was problematic for people entering the vault.

An article in The Guardian with the headline “Arctic stronghold of world’s seeds flooded after permafrost melts” last May directed a global spotlight on the situation, with more than 1,000 media entities publishing some version of the story during the following months. Officials with the Global Crop Diversity Trust, which co-manages the vault, quickly emphasized “flooding” was an exaggeration of the situation, but acknowledged the unexpectedly warm and wet conditions meant upgrades to the vault’s entrance were necessary.

The vault is celebrating its 10th anniversary Monday with a series of presentations at The University Centre in Svalbard, a ceremonial deposit of seeds during the afternoon, and the music/dance performance ”Frozen Songs” by a collaboration of visiting troupes at 8 p.m.