Inside the World’s Largest Seed Vault

Off and on for the past four years, I’ve been telling you about the world’s largest seed vault, located in Norway, and providing you with updates about it. Today I want to let you know a few additional fascinating factoids about the vault.

First, though, a quick reminder about this incredible project and its purpose.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is located approximately 600 miles from the North Pole on the Norwegian island of Spitsberger. It was built in 2008 to store duplicates of millions of different seed samples stored around the world.

Should a regional or global catastrophe occur, up to 4.5 million different seed samples (2 billion seeds) would be available for starting over.

There are plenty of reasons why we might need to access seeds from the vault, such as gene banks losing their samples of seeds as a result of equipment failures, funding issues, war or mismanagement.

The vault – an underground cavern blasted out of the permafrost and designed for a virtually endless lifetime – has been called “Noah’s Ark for securing biological diversity for future generations.”

They say the vault will survive everything from an earthquake to a nuclear strike. The constant inside temperature is 0 degrees Fahrenheit, which combined with limited access to oxygen ensures low metabolic activity. This delays seed aging.

The vault could preserve seeds from most major food crops for hundreds of years. Some of the seeds, including those of important grains, could survive for much longer, possibly thousands of years.

Now for those factoids:

  • This global repository consists of three separate 32 feet by 88 feet underground chambers with walls made of thick, steel-reinforced concrete.
  • There are two airlocks and two blast-proof doors.
  • If the electricity ever fails, the surrounding permafrost will keep the temperature below freezing.
  • At 430 feet above sea level, the site will remain dry even if the icecaps were to melt.
  • The seeds within the vault are packaged in four-ply packets stored in plastic tote containers on blue and orange metal shelving racks. This heat-sealing is done to exclude moisture.
  • The vault is unlocked only for deposits, which occur three to four times a year.
  • Once inside, one still has to go through five doors, each with a coded lock, to reach the seeds.
  • An added level of security outside the vault are polar bears, which outnumber humans on the island.
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