The Tech Herald

Doomsday seedbank to be opened on Arctic island

by Rich Bowden - Feb 25 2008, 08:52

On a windswept Arctic island 1000 kms from the North Pole, a group of Norwegian engineers and scientists have been constructing a gigantic seed bank inside a frozen mountain. Pic: Drawing of Seed Bank provided by Global Crop Diversity Trust.

On a windswept Arctic island 1000 kms from the North Pole, a group of Norwegian engineers and scientists have been constructing a gigantic seed bank inside a frozen mountain.

To be managed by the Global Crop Diversity Trust, a group dedicated to the ongoing diversity of plants through a variety of genetic strains, the International Seed Bank will open this week.

Known as the Doomsday vault, the seed bank has the capacity to hold 4.5 million batches of seeds from all known varieties of the planet's main food crops -- more than "...twice as many varieties of agricultural crops as we think exist," says Dr Cary Fowler, executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust and project mastermind.

"It will not be filled up in my lifetime, nor in my grandchildren's lifetime," he says.

The seedbank is located on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard and has the capacity to store samples from all the world's existing seedbanks so they can be replaced should they come under threat from a natural catastrophe or war.

The Svalbard site was chosen because of its remoteness and freezing temperatures where the mercury plummets to an average of minus 14 degrees Celsius in winter.

It is also testing the storage of seeds in permafrost conditions.

"It’s also an experiment, what they call a 100-year experiment, " says Dr Fowler. "They’re testing the germination rate of the seeds here under permafrost conditions."

"We have no mechanical refrigeration in this Nordic collection here and the seeds have been just fine since 1984. This experiment is what enables us to know that the seed vault will be working quite well for decades even if the mechanical refrigeration in the seed vault goes off," he added.

The vault has an alarm system and is protected by fortified concrete walls and an armoured door. The seed bank has also been built to withstand nuclear missile attacks or a plunging plane and, at 130 metres above current sea level, is high enough that it is not in danger of flooding should the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets melt due to global warming.

For an interactive feature looking inside the vault; please see here.

 

 

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