Thursday, May 25, 2017

Fact Check: Did the Global Seed Vault Flood Because of Global Warming?

On Friday, May 19, the Guardian and Wired ran stories claiming that melting permafrost had put the Global Seed Vault at risk. Their claims boiled down to the following:

  • Melting permafrost had flooded the facility because of record-warm winter temperatures.
  • Water in the entryway caught facility managers by surprise and endangered the seeds.

But these reports weren't quite right. Popular Science then published a piece explaining that the reported worse-than-ever flooding was actually somewhat routine. According to the article:

  • Water seeps into the entryway every year, according to Cary Fowler who spearheaded the vault's creation.
  • The front of the facility was designed to divert water runoff, and the seed storage is uphill of the tunnel entrance.
One reason the initial story caught on so quickly is that it plays into a key misconception about the Seed Vault: that it was designed and commissioned purely to combat the future effects of global warming.

In fact, the seeds in the Seed Vault preserve 881,473 different types of plants from 233 countries in order to backstop the loss or failure of local seed banks....