Spitsbergen Island is the largest island in the Svalbard Archipelago, Norway, in the Arctic Ocean. It is also the place chosen to host one of the seed reserves which, in the world, have the function of preserving duplicates of seeds important for biological diversity. The structure is built to withstand even the most catastrophic events that could destroy the food seed stocks held in various countries.
However, the seed reserve does not appear to be sufficient to withstand climate change. Here is what is happening.
image credit: Miksu/Wikimedia Commons
The Svalbard Seed Reserve plays a crucial role: it contains the most important food and plant seeds that guarantee biological diversity. The construction of such buildings arises from the need to give a “second chance” to the survivors of a catastrophic event, who would thus have the opportunity to restore most plant species.
The seeds are stored at a temperature of -18 ° C, under minimal oxygenation conditions to slow down the aging process. The Arctic Ocean was chosen because, in the event of a power failure, the permafrost surrounding the structure would be able to maintain rigid temperatures for a long time.
However, permafrost is at the heart of experts’ concerns, as it has already started to melt under the effect of climate change: by 2075, scientists estimate the rise in Svalbard’s temperatures at 10 ° C, contained at 7 ° C. C if the environmental measures are respected on time.
The increased heat would melt the permafrost – the land that is constantly frozen – and release large masses of methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
image credit: Global Seed Vault/Wikimedia
The increase in temperatures would also increase the frequency of the rains which, in recent years, have become unusually torrential, would shorten the snow season, thus increasing the avalanches.
In the last 50 years, we have already seen a rise in temperatures of 5 ° C, which has led to the dissolution of the surface layers of the permafrost: the Svalbard database has suffered floods that threatened the protection of seeds.
Scientists are considering three options for the future: a catastrophic scenario that will occur if no environmental action is taken in time, a “medium” scenario if greenhouse gas emissions decline sharply by 2040, and a “low emissions” scenario very unlikely to date.