‘Doomsday vault' Norway: How the Svalbard Global Seed Vault works

Buried deep inside the Plataberget Mountain in Svalbard, the Global Seed Vault is designed to preserve 4.5 million varieties of crops in the event of a global catastrophe.

    2016/10/03

NSFW    SVALBARD, NORWAY — Deep inside a mountain on a remote Norwegian island are more than 860,000 varieties of seeds, kept, literally, on ice for preservation should a global catastrophe occur.

Carved into rock and ice, the Global Seed Vault is safely buried into the Plataberget Mountain in Svalbard, Norway, not far from the North Pole. Also known as the “doomsday vault,” the facility was created by scientist, conservationist and biodiversity advocate Cary Fowler to safeguard one of the planet’s most vulnerable and valuable resources: plants.

The vault is, in essence, a fail-safe backup system for the world’s seed banks, a last resort for the preservation of plant genealogy.

Currently, 864,309 samples are housed in the vault. The plan is to house 4.5 million varieties of crops, with an average of 500 samples of each variety. The vault can hold a maximum total of around 2.5 billion seeds.

The vault opened in 2008 and is nearly 394 feet inside the mountain in Svalbard, the furthest north a person can fly on a scheduled flight, making it both remote and accessible. The facility was designed to last 1,000 years and to withstand a range of catastrophes including climate change.

The area is geologically stable, with low humidity levels, and is well above sea level, keeping the seeds dry even if the ice caps melt. Permafrost and thick rock ensure that the seed samples will remain frozen at minus 18 degrees Celsius even without power.

The seeds are stored and sealed in custom-made three-ply foil packages, which are sealed inside boxes and stored inside the vault.

Seeds are deposited into the vault following strict guidelines. Seeds can only be deposited if they originate from the country of the depositor (genetically modified crops are not allowed) and are shared under the Multilateral System or under Article 15 of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, which seeks to guarantee future food security. And, like a bank, deposited seeds can only be withdrawn by the depositor.

Security at the vault is state of the art and fully automated. There are no full-time staff, and no single person with all the keys necessary for entrance. New seeds are also only accepted a few days a year.
The Global Seed Vault is deep inside the Plataberget Mountain in Svalbard, Norway, not far from the North Pole. GLOBAL CROP DIVERSITY TRUST
The Global Seed Vault is deep inside the Plataberget Mountain in Svalbard, Norway, not far from the North Pole. GLOBAL CROP DIVERSITY TRUST
The vault currently houses more than 860,000 seed samples from around the world with room for 4.5 million varieties of crops. FACEBOOK / GLOBAL CROP DIVERSITY TRUST
The vault currently houses more than 860,000 seed samples from around the world with room for 4.5 million varieties of crops. FACEBOOK / GLOBAL CROP DIVERSITY TRUST
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