The Global Seed Vault, located the top of the world, on the island of Spitsbergen in the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, is back in the news – for the first time seeds are being taken from the bank for one of the reasons it was created – to supply and safeguard seeds in a time of war. Al Jazeera reports that “as Aleppo gene back built to safeguard global food supplies is at risk, researchers request frozen seeds from Svalbard”. Although Aleppo lies within the famous “fertile crescent“, it’s also in the thick of the Syrian war. Svalbard, despite some political shenanigans between Norway and Russia, remains calm, with more polar bears than people, and very cold.
I had the good fortune to visit the outside of the Global Seed Vault in 2009, while visiting on board the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise but not, unfortunately, on a day when it was open during a seed delivery. One would expect razor wire and machine gun nests, but despite the risk of bumping into a bear, there’s no other obstacles to reaching the front door, other than the fact that the vault, is about 1200km from the North Pole. Let’s hope the vault remains safe, for all our futures.
Nestled into the rocky waste of Plataberget Mountain about Svalbard’s airport, the Global Seed Vault is at once startling and innocuous. Designed by architect Peter W. S¯derman at Barlindhaug Consulting, this concrete, steel and glass structure is the first layer of security to a repository of millions of seeds from around the world, stored here in case of disaster, disease, or war…The Svalbard Global Seed Bank is situated 120 metres (390 ft) inside a sandstone.mountain at Longyearbyen on Spitsbergen Island, in the Svalbard archipelago about 1300km from the North Pole. Svalbard was considered ideal for the bank, due to low tectonic activity and its permafrost, which will aid preservation. Even if sea levels rise due to climate change – and the melting of ice caps, the seeds will be safe and dry , as they are stored at a location 130 metres (430 ft) above sea level. ..The Svalbard Global Seed Vault provides a safety net against accidental loss of diversity from traditional storage within genebanks around the world, and has a capacity for 4.5 million seeds. Although the media has made much of the “Doomsday Vault’s” role in providing security in the face of war or or catastrophe, the operators – the Norwegian government and the Global Crop Diversity Trust and the Nordic Genetic Resource Center – say that it will be most useful when genebanks lose samples due to mismanagement, accident, equipment failures, funding cuts and natural disasters.