Even though its name might not invoke images of a high-security facility, the Global Seed Vault definitely is one. It is a structure that makes science-fiction film scenarios a plausible vision of the future.

Permafrost

Svalbard Global Seed Vault is located in the Norwegian Svalbard archipelago, on a small island of Spitsbergen, near Longyearbyen. The vault was designed to last the test of time. The structure, built into permafrost, was made to withstand any disaster, natural or man-caused. What for? The Global Seed Vault holds copies of most of the world’s food crops, which, in case of a global disaster, would help the mankind to survive. Sounds like a science-fiction scenario? Of course, the facility is well guarded. Security systems consist of a number of locked doors, motion detectors, fire and smoke sensors. Moreover, a security company is tasked with monitoring the building via cameras installed inside. But there is more! The very localisation of the vault, a small island in the Arctic Sea, is a considerable problem for anyone who might want to gain access to it. The only way in or out is a tunnel going into the mountain.

photo by: Kitty Terwolbeck (CC)

photo by: Dag Terje Filip Endresen (CC)

Noah’s Ark

The Global Seed Vault, built in 2008, can safely be called by that name. Even though it does not hold animals, the plant seeds play an equally important role in our lives. That was the idea that inspired the founders of the Global Seed Vault – Norwegian ministries, and The Global Crop Diversity Trust. The Trust pays for the Vault’s operational costs, by means of various subventions, while the Norwegian government finances the maintenance of the building (they have also paid for the construction itself, which costed $9 million). Other sponsors, including Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, contribute to the Global Seed Vault as well.

photo by: Mari Tefre (CC)

Why pick this place?

Depositing the material is free, available for any organisations or private persons to do. What is important, is that the seeds should come from diverse genetic resources, which is important for the humanity’s condition. The structure itself is built 120m deep in the mountain, with the access tunnel being the only outside element. The island where the vault is located is a perfect place for such a facility, as it shows no tectonic activity, and the construction is situated 130 m above the sea level, making it safe from flooding. The seeds are stored in four-ply, heat sealed packets to protect them from moisture, which in turn are placed in containers. The climate within the vault facilitates the preservation of such material. Even though the surrounding temperature is -3°C, it is artificially lowered to – 18°C, which helps to preserve the seeds and their genetic value. Coal from a nearby mine is used as the facility’s power source.

Each of the Vault’s three levels is about 1200m2, which is enough to hold 4.5 packets, about 500 seeds each, which gives a maximum total number of 2.25 billion.

As you can see, not only the documents and pictures are closely guarded and protected from disasters. Seeds of food crops are extremely important for us, accessible by few, and in case of a catastrophic event, they will help the humanity survive.

photo title by: Mari Tefre (CC)