It has been called the Noah’s Ark for seeds, an underground vault in the Arctic to protect the world’s crops in the event of a doomsday scenario.
But the Global Seed Vault has reportedly been breached after soaring temperatures saw the deep permafrost designed to provide "failsafe" protection disappear.
Meltwater has apparently gushed into the tunnel entrance of the vault, which is buried deep in a mountain on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen.
“It was not in our plans to think that the permafrost would not be there and that it would experience extreme weather like that,” Hege Njaa Aschim, from the Norwegian government, told the Guardian.
“A lot of water went into the start of the tunnel and then it froze to ice, so it was like a glacier when you went in,” she told the newspaper.
A worker carries a box of seeds into the Svalbard Global Seed Vault
While the seeds themselves are safe for now as the water did not reach the vault itself, the breach has raised fears over its future. “It was supposed to [operate] without the help of humans, but now we are watching the seed vault 24 hours a day,” Ms Aschim told the Guardian.
The Global Seed Vault, opened in 2008, is a concrete bunker, 100 hundred metres deep inside a mountain. The refrigerated unit was designed to be a secure place to store seeds from many of Earth’s 3m known plant species.
Experts said it would provide a vital genetic resource in the advent of a global catastrophe such as an asteroid strike or nuclear war. The Doomsday Clock, which symbolises the current threat of global annihilation, was moved 30 seconds closer to midnight by scientists earlier this year.
Shortly before it was opened, Magnus Bredeli Tveiten, of the Norwegian government’s Directorate of Public Construction, said: "We believe the design of the facility will ensure that the seeds will stay well-preserved even if such forces as global warming raise temperatures outside the facility."
The vault, filled with samples of the world's most important seeds
Yet temperatures have risen more than previously imagined. The Arctic shattered heat records in the past year as unusually warm air triggered massive melting of ice and snow and a late autumn freeze, US government scientists said in December.
The Arctic’s annual air temperature over land was 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit (3.5 degrees Celsius) higher than in 1900, according to the Arctic Report Card 2016.
The sea surface temperature in the peak summer month of August 2016 reached nine degrees Fahrenheit (five degrees Celsius) above the average for 1982-2010 in the Barents and Chukchi seas and off the east and west coasts of Greenland.