"Doomsday" Global Seed Vault Opens its Doors Today
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a repository of 100 million agriculture crop seeds, received its inaugural shipment of seeds today from over 100 different countries.
The seed vault, whose utility is only matched by its enormity, is located on an isolated island off the northeast coast of Greenland. The vault consists of three caverns blasted into the local permafrost, over 100m below the the surface.
The seeds, stored at a chilly -18C and sealed off from the world with key-locked air tight doors, are expected to remain viable for upwards of 20,000 years, depending on the species.
Currently, there are over 70,000 varieties of rice, 10,000 maize samples, 47,000 wheat samples, and many more.
The opening of the seed vault is part of an unprecedented effort to protect the planet’s rapidly diminishing biodiversity. The diversity of our crops is essential for food production, yet it is being lost. This “fail-safe” facility, dug deep into the frozen rock of an Arctic mountain, will secure for centuries, or longer, hundreds of millions of seeds representing every important crop variety available in the world today. As well as protecting against the daily loss of diversity, the vault could also prove indispensable for restarting agricultural production at the regional or global level in the wake of a natural or man-made disaster. Contingencies for climate change have been worked into the plan. Even in the worst-case scenarios of global warming, the vault rooms will remain naturally frozen for up to 200 years.
“With climate change and other forces threatening the diversity of life that sustains our planet, Norway is proud to be playing a central role in creating a facility capable of protecting what are not just seeds, but the fundamental building blocks of human civilization,” said Norway’s Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg.
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is funded and established by Norway as a service to the world. The Global Crop Diversity Trust is providing support for the ongoing operations of the seed vault, as well as organizing and funding the preparation and shipment of seeds from developing countries to the facility. NordGen will manage the facility and maintain a public on-line database of samples stored in the seed vault, which has the capacity to house 4.5 million samples—some 2 billion seeds.
The building entrance is as unique as the seeds it houses:
Artist Dyveke Sanne and KORO, the Norwegian agency overseeing art in public spaces, have worked together to fill the roof and vault entrance with highly reflective steel, mirrors, and prisms. The installation acts as a beacon, reflecting polar light in the summer months, while in the winter, a network of 200 fibre-optic cables will give the piece a muted greenish-turquoise and white light.