Work begins on Arctic seed vault

By | June 21, 2006

Norway is starting construction on a “doomsday vault” in the Arctic which is designed to house all known varieties of the world’s crops.

Dug into a frozen mountainside on the island of Svalbard, it is hoped the project will safeguard crop diversity in the event of a global catastrophe. More than 100 countries have backed the vault, which will store seeds, packaged in foil, at sub-zero temperatures. Prime Ministers from five nations helped lay the cornerstone on Monday.

Premiers from Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Iceland attended the ceremony near the town of Longyearbyen, in Norway’s remote Svalbard Islands, roughly 1,000 km (620 miles) from the North Pole.

Secure facility

Norway’s Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg told the Norwegian news agency NTB: “The vault is of international importance. It will be the only one of its kind; all the other gene banks are of a commercial nature.”

Fenced in and guarded, with steel airlock doors, motion detectors and polar bears roaming outside –  the concrete facility will, its backers say, be the most secure building of its type in the world. Norway’s Agriculture Minister Terje Riis-Johansen has called the vault a “Noah’s Ark on Svalbard.”

The vault’s purpose is to ensure survival of crop diversity in the event of plant epidemics, nuclear war, natural disasters or climate change; and to offer the world a chance to restart growth of food crops that may have been wiped out.

At temperatures of minus 18C (minus 0.4F), the seeds could last hundreds, even thousands, of years. Even if all cooling systems failed, explained Mr Riis-Johansen, the temperature in the frozen mountain would never rise above freezing due to the permafrost on the mountainside. – bbc

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