Less Noise, More Green: Svalbard Global Seed Vault is one of the coolest places on earth

Monday, March 10, 2014

Svalbard Global Seed Vault is one of the coolest places on earth

Food security
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault                                                                                                           Bjoertvedt/Wikipedia

I have been thinking a lot lately about food security and just how fragile our local, national and global food systems are. Then I stumbled across the Svalbard Global Seed Vault and there is nothing insecure or fragile about this facility or it's mission! Plus, one day it might just save humanity.

There are 1,400 seed banks around the world where sample seeds are stored as a way to protect bio diversity. The problem is these seed banks are vulnerable. War, natural disaster, political change or lack of funding can result in the destruction of seed banks. What was needed was a place where countries could store back up samples of their seeds - a bank designed to protect the genetic diversity of the world's food crops.

The Svalbard Global Seed Bank is located halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole. It is owned and managed by Norway and functions as a giant safety deposit box. Located underground, the Vault is literally drilled into the permafrost. It consists of three chambers, each able to store up to 1.5 million different seed samples. With a sample containing 500 seeds, that means 2.25 billion seeds can be safely stored!

Dill Seeds

The facility is powered by a local electricity station and is kept at a constant temperature of -18  degrees C. The permafrost itself keeps the seeds frozen but in the case of rising global temperatures the Vault wont be affected. The facility also can't be touched by rising sea levels. In the event of global catastrophe, the seeds needed for the continuation of mankind are secure.

Japan, after the recent tsunami and Fukuhima nuclear disaster, made a deposit of their seeds at the Vault. Many developing countries, which have the most genetically diverse seed collections due to small scale family farming practices, are also the most vulnerable to natural and political instabilities. The seeds at the Vault are still owned by the depositing country and can only be withdrawn by them - just like a bank.

Food security, seed diversity

Why is it so important that we protect these seeds? We are losing biodiversity every day. Historically, more than 7,000 plant species were a part of the human diet.Today there are 150. We are losing varieties of crops as globally fewer family farmers pass down heirloom seeds and instead plant the same few varieties from large seed manufacturers.

We need genetic diversity to fight off plant disease and changes in the environment. Each time a variety becomes extinct, we may be losing the key to saving a species of crop in the future.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault may seem like something right out of science fiction but it is one of the most important places on earth. The only way it could be any cooler is if the Vault is actually a spaceship, buried in the permafrost and can leave orbit if global destruction is upon us! I know, I watch too many movies but how amazing would that be! If you find yourself one of the people tasked with rebuilding society after a global event, get yourself to Svalbard. I'm sure there is a key under the mat.

If you are interested in learning more about the Vault and the importance of  biodiversity, here is a video from when the Vault opened in February 2008..

Do you have heirloom family seeds? How far back can you trace their history?


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