Norwegian Seed Bank Ensures Future of Worldwide Biodiversity
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is located approximately 600 miles from the North Pole on the Norwegian island of Spitsberger. It was built in 2008 to store duplicates of millions of different seed samples stored around the world. The vault can preserve seeds from most major food crops for hundreds of years. Some of the seeds, including those of important grains, could survive for much longer, possibly thousands of years.
The vault – an underground cavern blasted out of the permafrost and designed for a virtually endless lifetime – has been called “Noah’s Ark for securing biological diversity for future generations.” In the event of a regional or global catastrophe up to 4.5 million different seed samples (2 billion seeds) would be available for starting over.
The designers say that the vault will survive everything from an earthquake to a nuclear strike. The constant inside temperature is 0 degrees Fahrenheit, which combined with limited access to oxygen ensures low metabolic activity, thus delaying seed aging. If the electricity ever fails, the surrounding permafrost will keep the temperature below freezing.
At 430 feet above sea level, the site will remain dry even if the icecaps melt. The seeds within the vault are heat-sealed in four-ply packets stored in plastic tote containers on blue and orange metal shelving racks.
The vault is unlocked only for deposits, which occur three to four times a year. Once inside, one still has to go through five doors, each with a coded lock, to reach the seeds. An added level of security outside the vault is provided by polar bears, which outnumber humans on the island.