The Truth Behind This Weekend’s ‘Doomsday Vault Flood’ Hysteria

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This past weekend saw many dramatic headlines concerning flooding at the Global Seed Vault in Norway.

WIRED, for example, published an article titled “The Arctic Doomsday Seed Vault Flooded. Thanks, Global Warming.”

“Doomsday Seed Vault Meant To Survive Global Disasters Breached By Climate Change,” wrote The Verge.

In reality, while the tunnel leading into the Global Seed Vault – designed to provide humanity with the tools to ensure an infinite food supply despite global catastrophe – was breached by melting permafrost, things were reportedly not quite as dramatic as many headlines made them out to be.

Amy B. Wang, writing for The Toronto Star, states that “though water did get past the vault’s threshold, none of the seeds had been damaged.”

Wang goes on to quote American agriculturalist Cary Fowler, who told Popular Science, “in my experience, there’s been water intrusion at the front of the tunnel every single year.”

Fowler reportedly also stated that the term “flooding” was not the most accurate way to describe what happened at the vault recently.

“What happens is, in the summer the permafrost melts, and some water comes in, and when it comes in, it freezes. It doesn’t typically go very far.”

Fowler reportedly went on to say that the vault’s tunnel “was never meant to be watertight at the front.”

According to The Verge, the seed vault – located in Norway – contains roughly one million seed packets. (Image via The Verge/Crop Trust)

But while flooding of the tunnel is a regular occurrence, the Global Seed Vault’s managers are still reportedly working to ensure the seeds remain as safe as possible.

According to, the Norwegian government, which owns the vault, is redesigning the entry where the flooding typically occurs.

This included removing electrical equipment in the tunnel that, as Tim Fischer – deputy chair of the trust that runs the vault – said, “may have added to the problem [of] warmth.”

Still, even without the changes, the seeds in the vault have always been safe.

As Popular Science puts it, “any water that floods into the tunnel has to make it 100 meters downhill, then back uphill, then overwhelm the pumping systems, and then manage not to freeze at well-below-freezing temperatures.”

In other words, the tunnel pretty much ensures that water will not breach the actual vault that contains the seeds.

Image via

“We did this calculation,” added Fowler according to Popular Science. “If all the ice in the world melted – Greenland, Arctic, Antarctic, everything – and then we had the world’s largest recorded tsunami right in front of the seed vault. So, very high sea levels and the worlds largest Tsunami. What would happen to the seed vault?” Fowler says. “We found that the seed vault was somewhere between a five and seven story building above that point. It might not help the road leading up to the seed vault, but the seeds themselves would be ok.”

Hopefully that puts things into perspective.

The Verge
Popular Science
The Toronto Star


Brandon Richard is a writer, musician and blogger. He loves thinking creatively and finding new ways of looking at the world.

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