The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, located more than 600 miles from the North Pole on the Norwegian island of Spitsberger near the town of Longyearbyen, was built to store duplicates of millions of different seeds stored around the world. Should a regional or global catastrophe occur, up to 4.5 million different seed samples 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. Recently, seed banks in Iraq and Afghanistan have been destroyed by war, while another in the Philippines was washed away in a flood following a typhoon.
“This is a frozen Garden of Eden,” said European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso when the $9 million vault officially opened on February 26, 2008.
Norway’s Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg added, “The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is our insurance policy. It is the Noah’s Ark for securing biological diversity for future generations.”
Funded entirely by the Government of Norway, the facility currently houses approximately 1.5 million distinct seed samples of agricultural crops and has the capacity to contain three times that number. The vault is an underground cavern blasted out of the permafrost and designed for a virtually endless lifetime. 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.
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. If the electricity ever fails, the surrounding permafrost will keep the temperature below freezing. The lack of tectonic activity and the surrounding permafrost makes it an ideal location. 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 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.
In fact, this maximum security facility has been called the “ultimate safety net” for the diversity of the world’s food plants!
When I read about this, it made me think that America is really behind the curve on this, but then what can you expect from our government these days? But I realized that there’s no reason why you and I can’t roll up our sleeves and start thinking about protecting our families’ food supply.
You probably don’t get up to Norway all that often, and you probably don’t have a whole lot of permafrost in your backyard. But that doesn’t mean you can’t start your own seed vault. It’s a great way to achieve food independence and be prepared for long-lasting emergencies. There’s no time like the present to begin storing a wide variety of non-hybrid vegetable seeds.
Collecting and saving seeds from your garden, if you have one, is also a great idea. Of course, you’ll want to time your harvest properly, clean and spread the seeds out to dry, store them in jars or packets, label them clearly, and keep them in a cool or cold, dark and dry place.
So what do you think? Is Norway on the right track or is it another massive government project destined to go off the rails? Let me know in the comments.