Saving Seeds Above the Arctic Circle: The Svalbard Global Seed Vault
Plastic boxes in shelves that contain four hundred aluminum bags with plant seeds, packed and waterproof, in the international gene bank Svalbard Global Seed Vault (SGSV), Norway. Source: (gettyimages.com)
If an apocalyptic event occurs on Earth that kills off much of the living things, there is hope for plant life, at least. That’s thanks to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault that is located on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen. Inside this secure vault are hundreds of thousands of seeds from food crops, flowers, trees, and grass seeds from plant species from all over the world. Let’s learn about this unique and innovative place that has the potential to regrow the planet.
The Global Seed Vault is Located in the Norway Arctic
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is located on an island in the Svalbard Archipelago only about 800 miles from the North Pole. An abandoned coal mine that goes deep into a mountain was repurposed for the seed vault. The area was specifically chosen because there is no tectonic or volcanic activity in the area, but there is permafrost. It is also about 430 feet above sea level. Even if the polar ice caps melt, this area will stay above the water line. It is estimated that the seed vault can house the majority of the food crop seeds for several hundred years, perhaps even thousands of years.
Seeds Go Dormant in the Cold
When placed in cold temperatures, seeds enter a dormant state. They will germinate again when they reach a warmer temperature. Inside the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, the remaining coal from the old mine powers enormous refrigeration units that keep the seeds a constant temperature of -0.4-degrees Fahrenheit. The permafrost will keep the temperature below 27-degrees Fahrenheit if there is a power outage.
The Seeds Are Well-Protected
Deep inside the seed vault, the individual seeds are well-protected. They are kept in three-ply foil packaging that are sealed and stored in plastic totes. The totes are placed on shelving racks to keep them off the ground and dry. Categorizing and organizing the seeds is a daunting task, but the workers at the seed vault have devised a system that allows them to quickly and easily find items the seed depositors have left so they can be easily retrieved.
Cary Fowler, a conservationist, working with the Consultative Group of the International Agricultural Research was the person responsible for the Svalbard Global Seed Bank. The group selected Norway for the ideal location of the vault and discussed their plan with the Norwegian government. The plan was to create a space that could house all kinds of plant seeds from all over the globe in order to protect them from extinction.
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is funded by the Norwegian government. The facility cost an estimated $8.8 million dollars to construct in 2008. Countries of the world can store seeds in the vault free of charge. Upkeep on the vault falls to a group called the Crop Trust that raises funds for maintenance and repairs to the seed vault. Among the major contributors to the Crop Trust is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Melting Ice has Penetrated the Vault in Recent Years
Global warming has caused some of the permafrost around the seed vault to melt. Some of the run-off has worked its way into the seed vault in recent years, causing some concern. The water has not damaged the seeds or even come close to the area where the seeds are stored, but it still raised concerns and resulted in the additional repairs to keep the vault sealed.