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Svalbard Global Seed Vault

Svalbard Global Seed Vault

Almost 1 million seed samples stored in the permafrost

Svalbard Global Seed Vault

The world’s largest secure seed storage can be found in the permafrost close to Longyearbyen. The Global Seed Vault is not open for visitors, but you can join organized trips with guides that will take you close to the entrance. A few of the trips on offer:

Seed to Summit: From the days of coal mining to The Global Seed Vault - Svalbard Wildlife Expeditions offers a 4 hour trek up to the mountain Blomsterdalshøgda and down passing the seed vault entrance. Book here. 

Try fatbiking on a historical road - FatBike Spitsbergen makes sure you have a safe and interesting bike ride, approximately 2 hours on historical Burmaveien (Burma road), where you also can bike up to the seed vault entrance for a closer look and enjoy the views of the fjords Isfjorden and Adventfjorden. Book here.

Longyearbyen in a nutshell - sightseeing with the local expert - Svalbard Buss og Taxi offers a 2 hour long sightseeing trip in Longyearbyen and its surroundings twice a day, where a stop outside the seed vault entrance also is included. Book here. 

Make sure to book accommodation in Longyearbyen in advance! Book here. Matthias Heyde

About the seed vault
 

The seed vault was established so that gene banks worldwide could store duplicate samples of their seeds, and by this ensure that food crop varieties are not lost in local or global crises like war, terrorism or natural catastrophes.

By storing the seeds in a location with permafrost you ensure that the seeds will stay frozen, even if a power cut should occur. In addition, Longyearbyen offers a stable political and geological location and well-established infrastructure – the seed storage is located only 1 kilometer from the local Svalbard airport. The three rock vaults in the mountain base maintains a natural low temperature of 3 – 6 degrees Celsius below zero, but the vaults are cooled down further to 18 degrees Celsius below zero by a local power plant. The freezing temperatures stops the seeds from developing, delay seed aging and makes it possible to store seeds for many years. If needed the seeds will be thawed and they will again be active.

Svalbard Global Seed Vault was opened in February 2008 by the Norwegian government. The idea of creating a big, international seed storage was not new, already in 1984 a secure seed storage for Nordic seeds was established in Mine 3. The 10-year anniversary of Svalbard Global Seed Vault was celebrated in February 2018 with the «Seed Vault Summit», with attending depositors and partners from all over the world.Matthias Heyde

Close to 1 million seed samples stored in the mountain
 

The vault, which is approximately 1000 square meters big, contains three separate rock vaults situated approximately 120 meters into the mountain, at the base of the mountain Platåberget (the plateau mountain). The vaults are placed east of the entrance of Mine 3. The vault is safely placed close to 130 meter above sea level and are constructed to withstand earth quakes up to 10 on the Richter’s scale. Each of the three halls can accommodate storage of up to 1,5 million seed samples.

Gene banks worldwide send duplicates of their seeds to Svalbard. Each country or institution owns their own deposits, but if an international time of crisis should occur the seed samples can be made available to all.

The seed vault stores several tens of thousands variants of important food plants such as beans, wheat and rice. In total there are more than 4000 different species in the seed vault. These seed samples are duplicates of seed samples that are stored in national, regional and international gene banks.

Each sample contains approximately 500 seeds in an air-tight aluminum bag. The samples are stored in containers with a maximum capacity of 400 samples. The containers are sealed by the gene bank which deposits the samples.Riccardo Gangale

Opened in 2008
 

At the opening in 2008 the seed storage contained 278 000 seed samples, for the most part rice and wheat. In September 2009 the deposits had risen to 423 899 seed types originating from 219 countries. In 2015 a total of 860 000 seed samples from 64 gene banks was deposited. In 2018 the number of seed samples is close to 1 million. The Seed Portal of NordGen (Nordic Genetic Resource Centre) contains the updated statistics of all seeds that have been deposited in Svalbard Global Seed Vault.Riccardo Gangale

Syria was the first nation to withdraw seeds
 

The seed vault is not an ordinary gene bank that scientists and other interested parties can contact directly for access to the seeds. The seed vault is a secure seed storage for national, regional and international seed and gene banks worldwide. The seed samples that are deposited in Svalbard can be used to recreate important diversity of plants if the seed samples in a regular gene bank were to be destroyed.

The first withdrawal was done in 2015. The seed samples of International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) was situated in Aleppo and was destroyed during the Syrian civil war. The research center had collected seeds from 148 000 food plants accustomed to dry areas. Luckily duplicates of approximately 80 % of the collection was sent to Svalbard.

The seed vault was established and fully funded by the Norwegian government. The ministry of Agriculture and Food is responsible for the seed vault. The ministry cooperates with NordGen, and Global Crop Diversity Trust when it comes to the daily management of the seed vault and receives guidance from the International Advisory Council. The Commission for genetic resources in UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and FAO’s International treaty on Plant Genetic Resources are important international supporters.Riccardo Gangale

Award-winning facade
 

The artwork ”Perpetual Repercussion” by Dyveke Sanne can be found on the vault’s roof and on top of the entrance. The artwork increases the vault’s visibility from a distance both in daylight and in darkness, made possible by triangular, light reflective pieces of acid-safe steel in different sizes. Together with other light reflecting elements as mirror glass and prisms the triangles reflects light and sunlight. The expression of the artwork will change depending on what time of day it is which season you’re in. The artwork was funded by The Norwegian State agency overseeing art in public spaces (KORO). The artwork was honored with Norwegian light award for best outdoor light project in 2009.NordGen

Sources:

Regjeringen.no
Wikipedia
NordGen – Nordic Genetic Resource Centre
Global Crop Diversity Trust

Written by Anci Haugerud

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