Flooding caused by climate change has hit the Global Seed Vault, which holds samples of the world’s seeds in the event of an apocalyptic catastrophe.
The seeds weren’t damaged, but the entryway of the vault flooded when nearby permafrost melted, The Guardian reports. Engineers are now designing plans to shore up protections at the storage facility.
The vault has been described as the “Noah’s Ark” of seeds and a last chance for the world to regenerate if the worst happens. Built into a hillside in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, it was established in 2008 as a fail-safe protection for food sources and stores packets of dried and frozen seeds from around the world that can last hundreds of years.
Officials chose the location because they believed the permafrost there was permanent. But in a worrying sign that world-threatening change may be inescapable anywhere on the planet, the permafrost melted for the first time in recorded history.
The melting occurred during the recent extraordinarily warm Arctic winter but, since the facility was designed to require little monitoring and is unstaffed, officials just discovered it. Now the Norwegian government, which owns the vault, and Statsbygg, the agency that runs the facility, will closely monitor it for threats from climate change.
“It was not in our plans to think that the permafrost would not be there and that it would experience extreme weather like that,” Statsbygg spokeswoman Hege Njaa Aschim told The Guardian. “It was supposed to [operate] without the help of humans, but now we are watching the seed vault 24 hours a day.”
Workers used pumps to remove the standing water and will waterproof walls and build drainage ditches to deal with runoff from melting permafrost.
Statsbygg is now also tasked with tracking the state of the permafrost on Svalbard.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article’s headline said the vault was in Antarctica. It is in the Arctic.