Sunday, June 11, 2017

Doomsday Vault

A few weeks ago Red Baron read an article about the Doomsday Vault on Spitsbergen. Spitsbergen is a group of Norwegian islands 1300 km north of the Arctic cycle, a permafrost region.

The Doomsday Vault (©Mari Tefre/Crop Trust)
The Doomsday Vault, scientifically known as the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, started as a Nordic Gene Bank storing the germplasm of about 5000 Nordic plants via frozen seeds in an abandoned coal mine at Svalbar in 1984.

In 2008 the foundation stone was laid for the present futuristic building. By February 2017 nearly one million samples from all over the world were stored protecting around 4000 of the world's most important crop species from any possible threats to our managed ecosystems, from asteroid strike to war. The vault is buried about 122 metres into the side of a mountain with thick, solid concrete walls and a long entrance corridor sloping down ... The vault is expected to stay at around -5 degrees Celsius for the next two centuries, though with generators running it's kept at a numbing -18 degrees Celsius ensuring a dry environment that would continue to keep them safe if the power ever fizzled out.

This May the vault unexpectedly experienced some flooding in spite of the climate change being fake news made up by the Chinese. Such flooding due to warm temperatures and strong rainfalls instead of snowfalls has never been experienced heretofore. Hege Njaa Aschim from the Norwegian government said, the permafrost melts, and some water comes in, and when it comes in, it freezes. It doesn't typically go very far. Well, the ice had to be hacked out.

This surprise is the reason why an international team of scientists is actually scrutinizing the climate change on Spitsbergen. It is disturbing that current computer models did not predict the sharp increase in temperature and rainfall in the region. These changes dramatically alter the living conditions in the city of Longyearbyen located at 78 degrees latitude where the scientists have their headquarters.

To explain this phenomenon of polar amplification Der Spiegel produced a schematic diagram in a recent article: With the temperature rise at the surface of our planet, sun-reflecting snow and ice surfaces slowly but steadily disappear. This causes the oceans and in particular the polar sea, no longer ice-covered, to become warmer. More water evaporates giving rise to the formation of more clouds that in turn produce heavy rain. Rain instead of snow accelerates the melting of Spitsbergen's glaciers exposing more naked earth to the sun further accelerating the warm up of the ground.

The circulus vitiosus of polar amplification (©Der Spiegel)
Melting of permafrost not only means the release of captured methane, a greenhouse gas worse than carbon dioxide, but opens up the possibility of breaking the ground for digging graves, a benefit the citizens of Longyearbyen would prefer to do without.

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