Published July 19, 2017
A little over 800 miles from the North Pole on a remote island in the Svalbard archipelago, lies a treasure trove nearly 400 feet deep in a mountain. This mountain, known to locals as Platåberget, houses 933,304 samples of seeds from around the world, all in an effort to ensure the viability of humankind’s food supply against crop extinction.
When thinking of extinction, many conjure images of dinosaurs and mammoths, creatures long gone as well as those whose numbers are dwindling in today’s world, such as Giant Pandas and Polar Bears. But crop species are just as vulnerable, perhaps even more so, as something as simply as power loss in a refrigerated facility containing the few remaining seeds of one variety could spell the end for that crop.
The Svalbard Global Seed vault seeks to combat this risk. The vault has been built to withstand disasters both natural and man made, to ensure the survival of our planet’s varied food supply. Thanks to the natural insulation of the mountain, in addition to the permafrost found within the Arctic Circle, the temperature of the vault remains at -18 degrees celsius, and will remain at that chilly temperature even in the event of power failure, ensuring the survival of seeds for potentially thousands of years.
Imagine the seed vault as a backup drive on a computer, if the unthinkable were to happen, and your data was lost, you could simply redownload the data from that backup drive. The vault works in a similar manner, by providing copies of seeds. There are facilities around the world known as genebanks that house seeds for breeders and researchers alike, but these facilities often lack the funding and capabilities to store seeds in the optimal environment, and they are vulnerable to seed lost. Svalbard serves as insurance, in the event of the worst case scenario, crop diversity will be ensured and food security will be maintained.
This modern day agricultural Library of Alexandria will house the world’s largest collection of seeds, with a capacity of 2.25 billion seeds. These seeds are brought to vault from all across the globe, from rare crops to popular varieties, all with one distinct commonality: they makeup the history of humanity’s food supply, and Svalbard aims to be the keeper of that history for centuries to come.
For more information on the Svalbard Seed Vault please visit: https://www.croptrust.org/our-work/svalbard-global-seed-vault/
– Alyssa Black, Customer Service Specialist