Press Release

Press Statement on the Seed Vault

Improvements of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault

19 May 2017

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is the world’s backup for crop collections. It currently safeguards more than 930,000 different varieties. It has been reported that the Seed Vault has seen water intrusion due to melting permofrost. The Royal Ministry of Agriculture and Food in Norway, the Crop Trust, and NordGen would like to assure seed depositors and the public that the seeds are completely safe and no damage has been done to the facility. The Royal Ministry of Agriculture and Food and Statsbygg, Norway, is taking appropriate measures to ensure the protection of the Seed Vault and improve the construction to prevent future incidents. Globally, the Seed Vault is, and will continue to be, the safest backup of crop diversity.

Signed

Pål Vidar Sollie, Director General, The Royal Ministry of Agriculture and Food, Norway

Marie Haga, Executive Director, The Crop Trust

Lise Lykke Steffensen, Executive Director, NordGen

Hege NjAA Aschim, Director of Communications, Statsbygg, Norway

19 May 2017

After 9 years of operation, Svalbard Global Seed Vault is facing technical improvements in connection with water intrusion in the outer part of the access tunnel because the permafrost has not established itself as projected.
Operation of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is a collaboration between several players. The seed vault is owned by the Norwegian government and administered by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food (LMD). Statsbygg is responsible for the administration of the physical installation and the technical operation of the vault. LMD has entered into a 10-year operating agreement with the Nordic Genetic Resource Center (NordGen), which is responsible for the operations of the seed vault and the International foundation Global Crop Diversity Trust (GCDT), which is contributing financially.

  • The seeds in the seed vault have never been threatened and will remain safe during implementation of the measures.
  • The measures are being carried out to provide additional security to the seed vault, based on a precautionary (“better safe than sorry”) approach.
  • Description of the measures:
    • Removal of heat sources in the access tunnel will protect against water intrusion resulting from potential climate change.
    • Drainage ditches will be constructed on the mountainside to prevent melt water from Platåfjellet accumulating around the access tunnel and to protect against water intrusion resulting from any climate change.
    • The construction of waterproof walls inside the tunnel will provide additional protection for the actual vault.
    • Alternatives for a new access tunnel to the seed vault will be explored with the aim to improve safety in a long-term perspective.
    • Statsbygg is carrying out a research and development project that will monitor the permafrost on Svalbard.
  • The measures will provide the most optimal maintenance and surveillance of the installation.

Statsbygg will answer all questions and enquiries regarding the measures.

MESSAGE ABOUT THE MEASURES

The seed vault is a success, with widespread support and a well-functioning operation. Statsbygg is now implementing measures that will continue to protect the seed vault in the future.

Some improvement measures are being implemented to prevent the season-dependent intrusion of water into the seed vault’s access tunnel. When water intrudes into the outer part of the seed vault, the water is immediately pumped out again by pumps that work around the clock.

  • Statsbygg has moved the transformer station out of the tunnel. This provides safer operation, easier maintenance and has removed a heat source.
  • Drainage ditches to be constructed and terrain leveling will take place on the mountainside above the seed vault to prevent melt water from Platåfjellet accumulating around the access tunnel and to protect against water intrusion resulting from any climate change
  • A waterproof wall will be constructed in the access tunnel as extra protection for the actual vault.

New access tunnel

Statsbygg will improve the access tunnel to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. The current access tunnel will be replaced with a more powerful and water resistant concrete construction, and the masses above will also be replaced. The purpose of this construction is to strengthen the installation and ensure it is resistant against the potential of wetter and warmer climate conditions in the far future.

In order to avoid further heating by technical installations, all installations will be removed to a separate service building nearby. Basic office facilities will also be established for those who manage the arrival and registration of seeds. Minor preparatory work has already begun, but heavier construction work is scheduled to begin in March of 2018. The anticipated completion date for this construction work is November 2018, with final completion of the installation estimated to finish in May 2019.

The seeds will remain safe during implementation of the measures.

Any melting of the permafrost has a very long-term perspective, cf. expert statements during the planning phase. In order to be “better safe than sorry,” Statsbygg is carrying out a research and development project that will follow the development of the permafrost on Svalbard.

The seed vault on Svalbard is a very safe installation for the preservation of copies of the world’s seeds. The seeds are stored deep inside the mountain, which is kept frozen by both permafrost and artificial freezing. Statsbygg provides 24-hour surveillance of the technical installation to ensure the seeds are safe. When water intrudes into the outer part of the seed vault, the water is immediately pumped out again by pumps that work around the clock. The effect of the measures will be continuously assessed in the coming years. If they are not sufficient, further and more extensive measures will be implemented.

For further questions on the improvements to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault please contact Statsbygg: Hege Njaa Aschim, Communications Director, henr@statsbygg.no, tel: +47 91370172.

-ENDS-

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