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Sval­bard Glo­bal Seed Vault

The Sval­bard Glo­bal Seed Vault is one of Spitsbergen’s most famous infra­st­ruc­tu­re faci­li­ties. It is loca­ted abo­ve the air­port, about 130 metres abo­ve sea level on the slo­pe of the moun­tain Pla­tå­ber­get. The idea is to store seed sam­ples of spe­ci­es which are important for agri­cul­tu­re and food sup­plies from coun­tries all over the world. In case the regio­nal diver­si­ty of wheat, rice or any other food plant is des­troy­ed by war, cli­ma­te chan­ge or natu­ral dis­as­ter, the Sval­bard Glo­bal Seed Vault holds a back­up. This may sound rather far-fet­ched, but the con­cept was alrea­dy app­lied in prac­ti­ce when sam­ples were retrie­ved to replace a stock in Syria. Becau­se of this back­ground, the vault is often refer­red to as the ‘Dooms­day Vault’.

The sam­ples in Lon­gye­ar­by­en are only released when stocks else­whe­re are not avail­ab­le any­mo­re. Hence, it is a back­up for the back­ups.

The con­cept came up in the ear­ly 1980s, when a nuclear war see­med to be a real thre­at. The first vault in Spits­ber­gen was estab­lis­hed in 1984 in a shut down coal­mi­ne (mine 3, not far from today’s seed vault). The Sval­bard Glo­bal Seed Vault which is in use now is not in an old coal mine, but in a pur­po­se-built tun­nel in solid sand­stone. The immedia­te pre­sence of coal was deemed unsui­ta­ble becau­se of metha­ne exha­la­ti­ons which ine­vi­ta­b­ly come with coal lay­ers. The tun­nel pene­tra­tes 125 metres into the moun­tain. The natu­ral per­ma­frost is sup­po­sed to cool the seeds down suf­fi­ci­ent­ly for a long time even in case the coo­ling sys­tems should fail com­ple­te­ly.

The Sval­bard Glo­bal Seed Vault was fun­ded by the Nor­we­gi­an government and ope­ned in Febru­a­ry 2008. Sin­ce then, it has con­stant­ly attrac­ted con­si­derable world­wi­de public and media atten­ti­on. The seed sam­ples remain pro­per­ty of the ori­gi­nal sen­der. Hence, the Sval­bard Glo­bal Seed Vault is in a way not­hing but an extre­me­ly upmar­ket, high-secu­ri­ty cold sto­rage faci­li­ty. Hund­red thousands of sam­ples are now stored the­re, main­ly sent in by inter­na­tio­nal rese­arch insti­tu­ti­ons. The sam­ples are stored in 3 secu­ri­ty cham­bers with high sto­rage racks. They come from coun­tries on all con­ti­nents (except Ant­arc­ti­ca, obvious­ly), inclu­ding North Korea.

New sam­ples are deli­ve­r­ed several times a years. On such occa­si­ons, the Nor­dic Gene­tic Resour­ce Cent­re (Nord­Gen) will usual­ly give jour­na­lists the oppor­tu­ni­ty to visit the vault.

The pan­ora­mas on this web­site were taken during such a media visit. The vault is clo­sed to the public, the­re are no oppor­tu­nities for visits.

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last modification: 2018-09-12 · copyright: Rolf Stange
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