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Norwegian ice melt threatens a doomsday vault full of seeds

AFP and staff writers, May 24, 2017 5:50PM News Corp Australia

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A BUILDING designed to protect precious seeds from all over the world from global catastrophe has sprung a leak.

Dug deep into a Norwegian mountain on a remote island in the Arctic Sea, the impressive structure was breached* by water, caused by unseasonally warm temperatures last week.

Authorities in charge of what is known as the “doomsday vault” said they would boost protection for the vault’s international collection of seeds, which scientists have compiled* to safeguard the world’s plants in case of a major disaster.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is the largest of its kind in the world and can store up to 2.5 billion seeds. Scientists have focused on collecting the seeds of food crops.

Freezing temperatures inside the vault keep the seeds, sealed in packages and stored on shelves, usable for a long period of time. Permafrost* and thick rock should guarantee the seeds are frozen and secured for centuries.

An artist’s impression of the vault. Picture: supplied media_cameraAn artist’s impression of the vault. Picture: supplied

But in October 2016, the warmest year on record, melting permafrost caused water to leak about 15m into the entrance of a 100m tunnel inside the vault.

No damage was caused to the seeds and they remain safe inside the vault at the required storage temperature of -18 degrees Celsius.

But the vault’s managers are now constructing a waterproof wall inside the building for extra protection, a Norwegian government spokeswoman said, adding that all heat sources would also be removed from inside the vault.

“We have to listen to climate experts (and) we are prepared to do anything to protect the seed vault,” Hege Njaa Aschim said.

The vault currently stores more than 880,000 seed samples from nearly every country in the world, including food staples such as corn, rice and wheat.

It also protects varieties of eggplant, lettuce, barley and potatoes.

A guard at the Svalbard Vault. Picture: AP media_cameraA guard at the Svalbard Vault. Picture: AP

“The water that leaked in had turned into ice … we had it removed,” Aschim said. Norwegian authorities are “taking this very seriously” and “following it continuously,” she added.

There are 1700 gene banks around the world that safeguard collections of food crops and many of these are exposed to natural disasters and wars, according to the independent Global Crop Diversity Trust.

The Svalbard vault was opened in 2008 with the aim to provide a “fail-safe seed storage facility, built to stand the test of time and the challenge of natural or man-made disasters,” the organisation says on its website.

“It is the final back-up,” it adds.

Each country that deposits* seeds into the vault has control and access to its own material.

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GLOSSARY

breached: something got in

compiled: put together

permafrost: think ice that stays frozen throughout the year
deposits:
puts in

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CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES

Activity 1.

Read the story carefully and answer these questions:

Why was the Svalbard Global Seed Vault built?

Where is the vault?

Why was this a good place for the vault?

What problem has happened to the vault?

What caused this problem?

What are the vault’s managers doing to protect it?

Extension:

Why is it important to have seed vaults and gene banks?
Create a mind map of as many different reasons that you can think of.

Time: allow 50 minutes to complete this activity

Curriculum links: English, Geography, Critical and Creative Thinking

Activity 2.

Use the internet or books to find out more about permafrost.

Write down five facts about permafrost that would help someone else understand what it is.

Include drawings or pictures to help you.

Extension:

The land that has permafrost below it is called the tundra.

Find out about the problems caused by melting permafrost for the people who live on tundra and for the whole world.

Create a short script for a radio interview.
You are the interviewer and you want to find out more about the problems.
Interview a person living on tundra land and a climate scientist.

Time: allow 60 minutes to complete this activity

Curriculum links: Geography, Science, Media Arts

VCOP ACTIVITY

(Vocabulary, Connectives, Openers and Punctuation)

Food for Survival

The scientists are collecting and storing food and crop seeds in particular so that if a disaster struck, we would be able to grow crops to survive.

The scientists have asked you to name three fruits or vegetables you can’t possibly live without and why.
You can write your response as an exposition complete with an introduction, a convincing paragraph for each food source you have chosen and a conclusion.

Think about not only which food you may like on their own, but also which staple foods are required for a lot of recipes you enjoy as well.

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity

Curriculum Links: English, Big Write, VCOP


EXTRA RESOURCES

TINY SPICE THAT BRINGS BIG BUCKS

EARTH’S SEAWATER CAME FROM SPACE

DRIVE TO PROVIDE FARESHARE OF FOOD

LIGHTS OUT FOR EARTH HOUR

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