Jim McMahon

It might look like something out of a sci-fi movie, but it’s actually the entrance to a giant vault located in Svalbard, Norway, that could one day save humanity. Completed in 2008, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault—also known as the “Doomsday Vault”—is intended to protect Earth’s food supply in the event of a global disaster by safeguarding hundreds of millions of seeds from all over the world.

The soil in Svalbard—located about 800 miles from the North Pole—is permafrost that has always stayed frozen year round and was expected to help preserve the seeds in their underground storage containers. But last fall, higher-than-average temperatures that scientists linked to climate change melted some of that permafrost, and water seeped into the vault’s entrance. All the seeds remained dry and undamaged, but to keep the facility functioning properly in a warming world, it’s slated to receive a $4.4 million upgrade.

Architects and engineers are now working on waterproofing the vault’s walls and digging ditches to help water drain. Will that be enough to protect the seeds of 900,000 different plants, trees, fruits and vegetables?

“This is the safest place on Earth for these seeds,” says Cierra Martin, a spokeswoman for the vault. “They’ll be safe no matter what happens in terms of climate change.”