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Saving the World, One Seed at a Time

Seed Vault

They call it the “Doomsday Vault”. How can a building that was purposely constructed as a fortress in remote location be so beautiful? The Svalbard Seed Vault has an art installation by Norwegian artist Dyveke Sanne in the entrance, which is made of a variety of shaped stainless steel, prisms, and mirrors. When the sunlight catches them, it looks like light reflecting off clear aqua water. At night, the installation is lit by fiber-optic lights.

This building was designed as a fortress, protecting the precious commodities inside. Finished in 2008, this Svalbard Seed vault is located on an island 800 miles from the North Pole. The vault was chosen to be built in Norway because the country was will to pay 100% of the funding to construct it. As a well-respected country worldwide, Norway understands the importance of housing and protecting the valuable seeds inside. The vault is built into the side of a mountain. The elevation is high enough to prevent risk of flooding. The chance of natural disasters happening in the area is almost non-existent. Naturally cold temperatures and the permafrost covering the mountain ensure the seeds will always stay at a freezing temperature, even if the power were to go out to the cooling systems.

Breaking into the vault would be near-impossible. If you can make it to the island (and avoid the polar bears on the way), there are four locked doors to get through. On top of that, there is an armed guard at all times, along with remote security technology in place.

So why all of the fuss? The vault protects over 800,000 seed samples. It is meant to be a storage facility to replenish the other 1,700 other seed banks in the world in case of emergency – war, weather, natural disaster, etc. Each plant has about 500 seeds stored in the vault, which are wrapped in tin-foil and wrapped in a sealed box in a room with monitored temperature and moisture levels. The seed vault has the capacity to hold up to 4.5 million different varieties of seeds.

The seeds can only be submitted or withdrawn by members of the Multilateral System that follow the rules of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. The seed bank that deposits seeds into the vault are the only ones that can withdraw them, unless otherwise specified. The vault is more of a back-up system in case something happens to a seed bank. The first withdrawal was made back in 2015 when the Syrian Civil war damaged a seed bank. The bank was moved from Aleppo to Beirut, and they withdrew their own seeds from the vault to restart it.

The purpose of the vault is to preserve what resources we still have, but also to prevent losing seed diversity. As the world develops, their mission is to preserve as many seeds from as many varieties as possible, in case of future need.

Sources: 

Bradford, Alina. “Facts About the Global Seed Vault.” LiveScience

 “New Seeds from Syria to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.” Government.no

“Svalbard Global Seed Vault.” Government.no

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