Norway's Doomsday Seed Vault Is Getting a $12.7 Million Makeover After Flood

Matthias Heyde/Ministry of Agriculture and Food, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Matthias Heyde/Ministry of Agriculture and Food, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Ten years ago, Norway build the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a secure storage facility deep within an Arctic mountain designed to keep seeds from the world’s essential crops safe from any kind of disaster. Though it’s not the only seed bank, it is the world’s largest, with nearly 900,000 seed samples in long-term storage. And now, according to The Verge, the facility is due for a makeover worth more than $12.7 million.

Owned by Norway’s Ministry of Agriculture and Food and run by the Nordic Genetic Resources Center, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is situated north of the Arctic Circle on an archipelago between mainland Norway and the North Pole. It acts as a backup library of seeds for the world’s major crops, providing a way to revive food sources if a country’s food supply is destroyed by natural disasters, warfare, or pests. The first of its seed deposits were withdrawn in 2015 to replace seeds samples from another gene bank destroyed in the Syrian civil war.

Tubes of seeds sit next to foil packets.

Ministry of Agriculture and Food, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

The seeds currently stored there are kept in vaults located almost 400 feet underground, ensuring that they will stay cold even if the mechanical cooling systems fail or as temperatures rise outside due to climate change. But now, 10 years after the mountain storage facility opened, it’s due for some upgrades to keep it running smoothly. On February 23, the Norwegian government announced a proposal to upgrade the infrastructure of the vault, including constructing a new access tunnel and a service building that will contain emergency power and refrigeration sources.

To keep seeds safe for future generations in perpetuity, the vault will have to be able to withstand the effects of climate change, which will include the melting of the permafrost that keeps the facility cool. In 2017, melting permafrost seeped into the vault, and while none of its samples was damaged, the failure does suggest that we can’t rely on permafrost to keep the vault’s treasure at a safe temperature if the mechanical cooling systems change. The new access tunnel will be more water-resistant, and the service building will keep sources of heat away from the vault itself. The work is scheduled to be done by May 2019.

Despite the melting permafrost, Svalbard is still considered one of the safest places in the world for really, really long-term storage. In March 2017, the seed vault got a new neighbor, the history- and culture-focused Arctic World Archive.

[h/t The Verge]

Europe's First Underwater Restaurant Is Now Taking Reservations

MIR, Snøhetta
MIR, Snøhetta

The choppy waters off Norway's coast may not seem like the most relaxing dining atmosphere, but thanks to the work of the architecture firm Snøhetta, the North Sea is now home to the region's hottest new restaurant. Under, Europe first underwater restaurant (and the world's largest), opens next year, as Forbes reports—and reservations are already filling up fast.

From the shore, Under looks like some sort of toppled ruin jutting out of the water. Guests enter at sea-level, then descend to the champagne bar and finally to the 100-person dining room, which is submerged 18 feet beneath the ocean's surface. From their seats, diners can gaze through the restaurant's 36-foot-by-13-foot panoramic window. Lighting installed both inside the room and along the seabed outside illuminates nearby marine life, providing a stunning underwater show any time of day or night.

A rendering of the top of Under jutting out of the ocean
MIR, Snøhetta

In addition to designing Under to be a breathtaking experience, Snøhetta built the restaurant to durable. The building's 3-foot thick walls protect guests and staff from water pressure and violent tides. The architects were so sure of the restaurant's safety that they intentionally built it in notoriously rough waters near the town of Båly off Norway's southern coast. According to Snøhetta's senior architect Rune Grasdal, a storm is the best time to dine if guests want a truly dramatic view.

A rendering of the exterior of the underwater restaurant
MIR, Snøhetta

The over-the-top atmosphere will be accompanied by a world-class meal. The seasonal menu comes from Danish chef Nicolai Ellitsgaard and dishes are served over the course of three-and-a-half to four hours.

Under doesn't open to the public until April 2019, but the restaurant is already taking reservations. Adventurous diners can attempt to book a table here, or, for parties larger than eight, email the restaurant.

[h/t Forbes]

David Hockney Designed Westminster Abbey's Newest Stained Glass Window—on an iPad

Westminster Abbey, YouTube
Westminster Abbey, YouTube

Westminster Abbey just got a new stained glass window whose colorful depiction of a country path contrasts starkly with the surrounding Gothic architecture. As The Guardian reports, famed 81-year-old British pop artist David Hockney sketched the scene of blossoming hawthorn on his iPad, then a 10-person team from Barley Studio in York, England installed the stained glass and brought his vision to life. The window, which replaced a section of "mostly blank" glass, is over 27 feet tall and nearly 11.5 feet wide.

It is called the Queen's Window, having been commissioned to celebrate the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. As for Her Majesty, no word yet on whether or not she likes it. "The Queen very often doesn't give you a very strong reaction," John Hall, the Dean of Westminster, told The Guardian. But Hall praised the newest addition to the church for having "an amazing brightness and clarity" and being a celebration of something the Queen has long loved: the countryside.

"It is wonderful to have something which is utterly contemporary from one of the greatest artists of the Queen's reign," Hall said.

It was certainly a bold choice, and as with much pop art, not everyone loves the end result. Dr. James Alexander Cameron, a freelance art and architectural historian who runs the blog Stained Glass Attitudes, wrote on Twitter, "I mean it depends on the quality of the actual glass but I think David Hockney might have topped Hugh Easton for 'worst window in Westminster Abbey.'"

Easton, the late artist Cameron is referring to, created six stained glass windows for Westminster Abbey. One window, dedicated in 1947, pays tribute to soldiers who fought in the Battle of Britain seven years prior. Two others, in a section called Cheyneygates, depict a wreath of roses and famed ballerina Dame Margot Fonteyn.

This marks the first time in Hockney's nearly 60-year career that one his artworks has been rendered on stained glass. He's considered one of the most influential British artists of the past century, and, according to The New York Times, if a scheduled Christie's auction next month of one of his 1972 works sells for its $80 million estimate, he'll become the world's most expensive living artist.

[h/t The Guardian]

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