Be Glad You Don't Live in 'Doomsday Vault' Town

Its permanently frozen ground isn't so frozen anymore
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 27, 2019 7:00 PM CDT
Updated Mar 28, 2019 1:00 AM CDT
The 'Doomsday Vault' Town Has a Serious Problem
Search and rescue crews work after an avalanche hit several houses in Longyearbyen, Norway, Saturday Dec. 19. 2015.   (NTB scanpix via AP)

Thank your lucky stars you don't live in Longyearbyen. Tucked away on a remote Norwegian island, the town of 2,000 is built on permafrost that's melting due to climate change—which is destabilizing houses, threatening wildlife, and menacing the so-called "doomsday vault," CNN reports. A shocking increase in the town's annual mean temperature (3.7 Celsius higher since 1900) has diminished snow cover and ice that usually reflect solar energy; now it's being absorbed. Add increased rainfall and you get avalanches that have destroyed at least 11 houses, Forbes reports. Plus most of Longyearbyen's buildings are constructed on wooden pillars that are getting wet and rotting in the permafrost.

Earth's northernmost town is also home to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, which stores nearly one million seed packets in case human civilization is wrecked by catastrophe. It seemed safe inside a mountain, but heavy 2016 rainfall caused flooding and required nearly $12 million for waterproofing and other protection. Meanwhile, animals like polar bears and reindeer are struggling to adapt their foraging to warmer climes. And residents have another problem: The coal-mining town has added two other economic pillars, scientific research and tourism, which bring in more people and worsen the housing crisis. Now Longyearbyen is building two new apartments to replace what avalanches have destroyed. (More climate change stories.)

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