The Doomsday Vault


In a place far, far away, where snow-covered ground is all one can see for miles and miles, in a climate that is one of the coldest on Earth, a vault has been built. Deep in the ground, its tunnels run until you reach a vault that houses one of humanity’s most precious treasures. It is not gold or diamonds that you will find carefully stored in this vault; instead, neatly nestled in individual envelopes, carefully labeled and marked, what this vault preserves are seeds. It is a place where all countries had a hand in filling it up, and where you may find countries that are now at conflict or are in discord have seeds stored there for safekeeping, peacefully next to each other.

This place is the Svalbard Global Seed Vault; from its name you can comprehend what it is all about. It is a seed bank, where all countries can deposit seeds of the plants that grow on their land for safekeeping from natural and human disasters. The Vault was carefully designed so that it can withstand severe disasters. It is located inside a sandstone mountain on Spitsbergen Island in Norway, and is130 meters above sea level.

The Vault is designed so that seeds within it can be preserved for hundreds of years, in case of an apocalyptical disaster hitting Earth and destroying crops worldwide. There is a refrigeration system in place that keeps the Vault at -18°C, which is the recommended temperature for the seeds’ safekeeping. The seeds are sealed in moisture proof packets ensuring their survival over the years and decades to come.

This Vault began in 2006 and is now well stocked, and the effort is still ongoing; but why is this project so important? Well, over the years the diversity of crops worldwide have dwindled and this is a dangerous course that there is no turning back from; once a plant strain is lost, it is extinct forever and we have lost all the attributes contained in that one strain. It is the diversity of strains that allows us to ensure that crops are strong against disease and harsh surroundings.

About 500 seeds of each variety are in the Vault; each strain has certain genetic resistance to different diseases, whether potential or already known, and certain qualities that could come in handy in different environments. However, due to mass production we keep losing strains that are naturally occurring and, therefore, we lose the possibility of putting that specific strain to use in the future. We need to preserve as many diverse strains of crops as we can to ensure a continuation of our food supply in the future.

The Vault was officially opened in 2008, and its mission is to house the 1.5 million different seeds of various agricultural crops existing in the world. The storage capacity of the Vault is 4.5 million seed samples, and whilst it has been filling up its shelves over the years, work is still continuing at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.

Interested to see how the Vault looks from within? Check out this extensive news report:


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SCIplanet is a bilingual edutainment science magazine published by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Planetarium Science Center and developed by the Cultural Outreach Publications Unit ...
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