Deep inside a mountain on a remote island in the Svalbard archipelago, halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole, lies the Global Seed Vault, the most highly secured, robustly guarded seed bank in the world..
Svalbard Global Seed Vault is a really cool place that you cannot gain access to. Sometimes called the “doomsday vault”, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is seen as humanity’s last hope against extinction after a world crisis.
From the outside, the vault looks like a concrete wedge pounded into a mountain. But as you walk through the door, you cross from a hostile wasteland into a safe house for humanity.
Opened in February 2008, the vault guards Earth’s crops against global catastrophe. With 250 million crop seeds from around the world packaged in special four-ply packets and heat-sealed to guard against moisture, it provides samples of seeds that may be lost due to accident, equipment failures, funding cuts and natural disasters. It can hold massive amounts of seeds and is built to store a whopping 4.5 million varieties of crops, with each variety containing around 500 seeds. That equals a maximum of 2.5 billion seeds that can be stored in the Vault, according to Global Crop Diversity Trust, an international group that works in conjunction with the Norway government to manage the seeds in the vault.
In addition to keeping the seeds at 0F, the seeds are sealed in three-ply foil packages and then sealed inside boxes. These boxes are placed on shelves inside the vault where temperature and moisture levels are closely monitored. This process helps keep the metabolic activity in the seeds low, keeping them viable for long periods of time. So secure in fact that studies project seeds could survive there for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.
But according to Nargis Ansari, “unless you’re a designated researcher or plant breeder you’re not allowed inside the vault”.
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault’s mission is to provide a safety net against accidental loss of diversity in traditional genebanks. While the popular press has emphasized its possible utility in the event of a major regional or global catastrophe, it will be more frequently accessed when genebanks lose samples due to mismanagement, accident, equipment failures, funding cuts, and natural disasters.