The Svalbard Global Seed Vault

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault

November 14, 2009
Photo by: Greg White

In 2006, Norway began to build Svalbard Global Seed Vault, the ultimate seed bank—one that would survive all sorts of natural disasters—by building it inside a sandstone mountain on Spitsbergen Island, located in the Arctic Svalbard archipelago, about 810 miles from the North Pole.

The location was chosen for its Fortress of Solitude-like qualities (Superman, you may recall, also lived in the Artic) and the vault is located in an area that is not prone to earthquakes, always cold, and placed so far above sea level—430 feet—that even if the ice caps melt, the site would remain dry. If the refrigeration systems that keep the seeds at 0°F were to fail, it would take several weeks before the vault would slowly warm to a still very cold 27°F, as a result of the surrounding bedrock. 

Seeds may last from twenty years to hundreds of years, but plans are being made for some of the seeds to be planted and re-harvested so that the seeds in the vault are always viable for planting. Now, if a country's seeds are destroyed (or in a doomsday senario, if in the future, Armageddon arrives), the seed vault will have the material to start new crops. Priority has been given to crops that are important for food production and sustainable agriculture. Currently, the vault holds half a million seed samples and there is room for more than 3 million samples. 

This seed bank in Norway has been referred to as the "Noah's Ark of seeds," but it is useful even today, without a global catastrophe. Many countries, including Iraq, have lost valuable seed banks, due to war or weather-related disasters. And as the climate changes, seed banks are useful as repositories for varieties that may be able to adapt to changing conditions. The building was designed by Peter W. Søderman MNAL of Barlindhaug Consult

The amazing photos in the accompanying slide show were shot by photographer Greg White, whose book, Svalbard, (£16.50), includes photographs of not just the seed bank, but also the rest of this beautiful and remote island.