June 19, 2006

The biodiversity freezer.

Carved in an icy mountain, guarded by polar bears. Norway as Noah.
Its purpose is to ensure the survival of crop diversity in the event of plant epidemics, nuclear war, natural disasters or climate change, and to offer the world a chance to restart growth of food crops that may have been wiped out....

The vault will have thick concrete walls, and even if all cooling systems fail, the temperature in the frozen mountain will never rise above freezing due to permafrost, it said.
So it will protect us in the event of "climate change," and it will always be frozen "due to permafrost"?


amba said...

Ha HA!

Wolfe said...

You're [AA] thinking like a lawyer, and being highly (and appropriately) critical. (Nothing wrong with that of course).

As an engineer, it's a decent attempt to inexpensively accomplish the objective: preserve seeds against not only climate change but also instability in the third world, and a half dozen other disasters.


Telecomedian said...

Isn't the North Pole the one that is melting away? All those poor seeds...floating to Greenland.

Ann Althouse said...

Wolfe: I'm not slamming the whole effort, just noting a discrepancy. I think it's a good idea. It could be the last life on earth. Definitely worth doing. And inspiring just as a gesture.

Jacques Cuze said...

Ha HA! I am a law professor and I know how to be critical without being a critical thinker. I know how to post, but I do not know how to click the links.

With just three clicks, here is what I would have discovered, but would I have understood it, and if so, would I have made my silly smearing comment anyway?

A meter of reinforced concrete will fortify the chamber walls. Arctic permafrost will act as a natural coolant to protect the samples—which will be stored in watertight foil packages—should a power failure disable refrigeration systems. Despite changes being wrought by global warming, experts believe the deep permafrost will be reliably cool for at least the next 100 years. Even with a complete loss of refrigeration, vault temperatures would never rise above -3.5 Celsius or about 27 degrees Fahrenheit.

Of course, what is more important is that I make a hip comment ridiculing scientists and global warming.

Pogo said...

After gaining freedom form the vault, will the seeds plant themselves?

Pogo said...

I get it!
So global warming doesn't mean things will, you know, warm up alot, but, um, something else.

Ann Althouse said...

Quxxo thinks I'm hip.

MadisonMan said...

So global warming doesn't mean things will, you know, warm up alot, but, um, something else.

I will note the obvious: Svalbard Island is not the globe. Is it hard to understand that some parts of the globe might not warm up during global warming even though the Earth, on average, warms?

Pogo said...

Re: Is it hard to understand that some parts of the globe might not warm up during global warming even though the Earth, on average, warms?

Ah, the ever-shifting definition of global warming. It's now global weather change. It's not science, of course, because (as is usual with this junk), it's irrefutable. it means whatever I wish it to mean. All weather is explained in terms of global warming. Hurricanes, tornados, heat, cold.

So it won't warm up precisely in the location they're hiding the seeds, which they apparently know because, um, Hey! Look over there!.

Wolfe said...

Thanks Ann. With respect, it came off to me as niggling. That said... we need lawyers, we need people like you, and heck I'd not have noted it if not for you!

Jaques... sheesh, you come off as a twit. Her comments are not patently [hah] unreasonable; quite the reverse.

Good engineers need their ideas to be intelligently attacked. Ann Althouse made a decent first pass effort at doing so (failed, IMO, but a decent effort). Her comments merit thought.

[Granted if I were stuck providing expert testimony on a lawsuit she initiated against the 'freezer' I might feel differently]

You're just flailing at her and the relevant ideas.


MadisonMan said...

Apparently, I mispoke -- Svalbard Island is warming quite quickly (as noted here), which leaves me scratching my head as to why the Norwegians would choose it for a cold vault. There are plenty of mountaintops above 3000 feet in northern Norway that would be colder, I'd think.

Apologies for the confusion: I was assuming that whomever picked Svalbard was predicting cooling based on thermohaline collapse or enhanced snowfall because of the open Arctic Ocean.

There's a very interesting website on arctic climate change here. I think the stuff under roads is really an interesting consequence of warming of the observed warming in the Arctic in the past 20 years.

Ann Althouse said...

Niggling? Hey, it was in question form and written in the lightest possible style. This isn't written in a lawyerly style and it isn't a "first pass." It's a style of blogging that people enjoy reading. I can't imagine the leaden -- concrete, permafrosted -- style that wouldn't have "failed" your standard.

It made amba laugh. That, to me, is the best test of whether I'm successful doing what I'm trying to do.

James Wigderson said...

Are they keeping Ted Williams there?

Wolfe said...

Ann, you wound me to the quick. You are a bit mean, seriously. "I can't imagine the leaden -- concrete, permafrosted -- style that wouldn't have "failed" your standard"

That really is not me, and it's a bit of an ad-hominem attack, no?

Seriously, I agree with you (mostly). I don't agree with your thought patterns, perhaps because I'm an engineer and you're a lawyer. But I really think you're being unfair to dismiss me with that Soviet style "leaden -- concrete, permafrosted".

As for my standard... I just want what's efficient, sensible, etc in a free market economy. It may vary from your (or my) view of what's 'best'... but so be it.


John said...

A few questions:
Where are we going to store the rest of our current flora & fauna" Isn't everything in danger?
Do any of the plants we are "saving" need insects or animals to aid in pollination? What happens if they don't survive?
Doesn't the environment adapt to changes (evolve)? How will this intervention disrupt the cosmic balance?
Why do we think we know everything we need to know today, but don't trust that we will know enough to solve problems as they arise in the future?
Why does Quxxo keep coming back when he never finds anything he likes here?

Ann Althouse said...

Wolfe: No, it's not an ad hominem attack. Calling me a "lawyer" though might be.

AJ Lynch said...

Quixxo said;
"Of course, what is more important is that I make a hip comment ridiculing scientists and global warming."

Au contraire, Jacques aka Quixxo, one is truly hip only if one believes in global warming and the PC "scientists".

Wolfe said...

The catch is... calling you a 'lawyer' is factual. I do admire your sense of humor on that matter though.

But still, please. Characterizing me as "leaden -- concrete, permafrosted"? Pfft. In any event, leaving aside that issue...

An interesting idea. Feasible? In the short term, certainly. As temperatures rise? (which is what Prof Althouse was pointing at) Doubtful. Sadly doubtful.

It would come down to the question of temperature rises being within normative tolerances. And that's another matter...

Also, (this an engineering view, not a lawyer view) it would be a matter of the preservation being 'good enough' for enough seeds.


Tibore said...

It seems a tad idealistic to me. For starters, if there's some sort of catastrophic event that wipes out the worlds food crops, what guarantee is there that there'll be an environment where such salvaged seeds will grow? The ending of such an apocalypse does not guarantee the resulting conditions will return to a state favorable to those organisms growth.


Jacques Quxxo: Is it possible for you to not insult when you post? Everyone else here is able to criticize without resorting to juvenile tactics and childish statements. Why can't you? Some of your previous posts, challenging as they were, actually approached the level of adult conversation, so you're clearly capable of meeting this standard. Why won't you try? You'll be a more accepted participant if you do.

Pogo said...

Don't waste your breath.
Sociopathy isn't fixable; it's a black hole.

dave said...

the 'global warming' being talked about will certainly affect everyone but is really a very small amount in absolute temperature numbers. those small shifts do things like change air currents and weather patterns because those are dependent on a very finely tuned balance... like how if your freezer goes from 31.5 degrees F to 32.5 degrees F all of your ice cubes melt.

brylin said...

Stephen Hawking has a much better idea.

Hamsun56 said...

I think it is a nice idea and it can't do any harm. It helps to put Norway in the news and promotes Svalbard as a tourist destination (I've been there and it's an awe inspiring place).

The Norwegian government is also sponsoring junkets to Svalbard for foreign legislators to inform them about the effects of global Warming. Senator McCain visited a couple of years ago (with Senator Clinton) and he said that it changed his view on global warming.

FTR: I've previously posted here as "andrew".

jeff said...

I think it's an interesting idea that isn't taken far enough.

We need to have 3 or 4 of these - perhaps stick one (or more) in Antarctica as well as Siberia.

The Drill SGT said...

Let's ignore the Extinction Level Events (ELE) like nuclear winter and in the worst scenarios, Global warming for a second. Seed stockpiles have been done implemented in historical times by other nation states. It's reasonable insurance against crop failure, or other natural disaster.

In this context, we aren't talking I think about recovery from nuclear winter, but rather some smaller more limited disaster that impacts one or more regions and a set of food crops. An example might be a viral infection that impacts germination of wheat grain, or a Dutch Elm disease that impacts apples, or phylloxera, the root lice that nearly destroyed Vitis Vinifera (the Wine grape) throughout its then known range (Europe).

Or we could have a made man genetic engineering problem with side effects that are not contemplated.

Or maybe it would just be nice to have stocks of "heritage" seeds, so that we have an alternative gene pool.

it's crop insurance writ large

SteveR said...

I'm generally a real skeptic about all these scnarios but hey if Norway wants to do it, I say go for it. They might want to put some frozen embryos of European Christians in there.

John R Henry said...

I am surprised that nobody here has mentioned the Seed Savers organization www.seedsavers.org

They are devoted to saving what they call "Heirloom seeds". A bit different mission and for different reasons with different methods. Still, the end goal is similar, preserve the seeds.

They are open source, distributing and storing seeds widely. Norway is closed source.

Not that one is necessarily better or worse than the other, just pointing it out.

One thing I am not clear on is the need for refrigeration equipment at Svalbard. If the permafrost will keep the seeds cold in the event of failure, why won't it do it now?

If there is a cataclysmic event it seems like those seeds are going to spend a lot more years (centuries? Millenia?) depending on permafrost than they will on mechanical refrigeration.

John Henry

John Henry

Ann Althouse said...

Wolfe: I didn't characterizing you as "leaden -- concrete, permafrosted." I criticized you for criticizing my writing style and speculated about the style of writing that you wouldn't have judged a "failure" here -- using language from the original post. Essentially, my problem with you was your... failure... to get my blogging style. The post you think this should have been is not the sort of post you could ever expect to find here.

Verification word: shetbx.

Use it in a sentence: This comment thread went straight into the shetbx.

MadisonMan said...

Seed Savers once had an outlet on Monroe Street here in Madison, just down the street where the new Trader Joe's is going in (where Ken Kopp's used to be). Seed Savers was the best place to shop for plants in the spring 'cause they had such unusual things. Now I have to hie myself out to Middleton to get Seed Savers plants.

I save my tomato seeds from year to year. Beats buying them.

altoids1306 said...

If the permafrost there thaws, we've got some major problems. Bravo to Norway for doing this. They're not trumpeting it, no finger-wagging at the US during an opening ceremony speech, just going about their business.

The "guarded by polar bears" is a nice touch.

Jacques Cuze said...


Since this is a global warming thread, just a reminder that we are all interested in hearing your thoughts on an Inconvenient Truth....

Thank you,


P.S. I am not sure your reading comprehensions skills are all that.

Jacques Cuze said...

I apologize, when referring to Ann's thoughts, I left out the scare quotes.

your "thoughts"

Much better.