With global warming looming, Mother Nature could sure use a backup plan—a secure place to store copies of her crops and other plants. Now, thanks to the government of Norway, she has one. Dug into a permafrost mountain, the massive Svalbard Global Seed Vault began collecting seeds in February. So far it has 268,000 unique samples, with a capacity for 4.3 million more.
Although about 1,400 seed banks exist worldwide, this one, in Norway’s Svalbard islands, dwarfs them all and aims to safeguard duplicates of the seeds. Stored seeds are frequently lost because of natural disasters, war and warm temperatures, so Svalbard was built to withstand these challenges. The facility is remote, located 1,000 kilometers beyond mainland Norway’s northernmost tip. It can be accessed only via a 93-meter tunnel through the permafrost. And it is “the best-insulated freezer in the world,” says Cary Fowler, executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust: if the cooling units fail, the permafrost will keep the vault below –3.5 degrees Celsius. Norway built Svalbard for $9 million and maintains it, and the trust oversees its collection, but institutions that deposit seeds can remove them anytime.
Svalbard wasn’t built because the end is nigh but to enhance the earth’s sustainability. “We’re scientists,” says Fowler, an American. “We’ve really just had it up to here with losing crop diversity.”
Note: This article was originally published with the title, "Perma-Vault Now Accepting Seeds".