Vault to Protect Earth's Seeds
Let's hope there is never a need, but just in case
the earth has a major 'doomsday' event, Norway has a deep remote
vault in an Arctic mountain, designed to protect the world's seeds
from global catastrophe.
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a backup to the world's 1,400
other seed banks, was to be officially inaugurated in a ceremony
Tuesday on the northern rim of civilization attended by about 150
guests from 33 countries.
The frozen vault has the capacity to store 4.5 million seed samples
from around the globe, shielding them from climate change, war,
natural disasters and other threats.
"There are not many countries in the world they could have
pulled this off," said Cary Fowler, executive director of
the Global Crop Diversity Trust, a partner in the project.
Norway's government owns the vault in Svalbard, a frigid archipelago
620 miles from the North Pole. The Nordic country paid $9.1 million
for construction, which took less than a year. Other countries
can deposit seeds for free and reserve the right to withdraw them
The operation is financed by the Global Crop Diversity Trust,
which was founded by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization
and Biodiversity International, a Rome-based research group.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, 2004 Nobel
Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai of Kenya, a Crop Diversity Trust
board member, and Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg planned
to attend the opening ceremony 425 feet deep inside Plataaberget
It was about 5 degrees outside as reporters were allowed Monday
in for a sneak peak. But it was colder inside. Giant air conditioning
units have chilled the vault to just below zero, a temperature
at which experts say many seeds could survive for 1,000 years.
Inside the concrete entrance, decorated for the opening with an
ice sculpture of a polar bear, a roughly 400-foot-long tunnel of
steel and concrete leads to three separate 32-by-88-foot chambers
where the seeds will be stored.
The first 600 boxes with 12 tons of seeds already have arrived
from 20 seed banks around the world, Norwegian Agriculture Minister
Terje Riis-Johansen said. The first 75 boxes were to be carried
into the vault by guests as part of the opening ceremony.
The seeds are packed in silvery foil packets - as many as 500
in each sample - and will be placed on blue and orange metal shelves
inside the vault. Each chamber can hold 1.5 million packets holding
all types of crop seeds, from carrots to wheat.
Construction leader Magnus Bredeli-Tveiten said the vault has
been designed to withstand earthquakes - successfully tested by
a 6.2-magnitude temblor off Svalbard last week - and even a direct
And even if power fails
and cuts off the air conditioning, the permafrost insulating
the vault would help keep the seeds "cold
for 200 years even in the worst case climate scenario," Fowler
He expects the vault's life span to rival that of Egypt's ancient
"So much of the value of Svalbard is that it is so far away
from the dangers" that affect many other parts of the globe,
Fowler said. The archipelago is about 300 miles north of the Norwegian
Other seed banks are in less protected areas. War wiped out seed
banks in Iraq and Afghanistan, and one in the Philippines was flooded
after a typhoon in 2006.
Fowler called the vault
an insurance policy against the unthinkable. "It's
like you get in your car in the morning and drive to the office.
You don't expect to get into a car accident, but you buy insurance
The vault is protected by armed guards, but their rifles aren't
meant only to discourage uninvited humans from coming too close.
"My job is to keep away people who aren't supposed to be
here - and guard against polar bears," vault worker Jimmy
Olsen said, was standing outside the entrance with a rifle slung
on his shoulder. There are an estimated 3,000 polar bears on the
Norway has received
praise from around the world for building the seed bank. FAO
Director-General Jacques Diouf on Monday called
it "one of the most innovative and impressive acts in the
service of humanity."
But the world spotlight worries some locals, who treasure the
isolation of living in the Arctic.
"We like to be here a little bit for ourselves," said
Kai Tredal, 42, one of the roughly 2,000 people in Svalbard's main
AP via AOL News