Seeds of Salvation

Seed bank in Arctic
At the very edge of civilisation, on a rugged island north of Norway, sits a strange, jutting building that houses the most important collection of seeds in the world, stored away in the event of catastrophe.

The doors of what is known as the Doomsday Vault opened again recently on the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, as new seeds were delivered from the US and Japan.

The Global Seed Vault, set up in 2008, houses hundreds of thousands of crop seed varieties from around the world. Svalbard was chosen to host the vault because of its cold climate and remote location.

Foreign dignitaries, scientists and media crews can go in when invited, but it is not open to those just wanting to have a look.

To get from the front door to the vault room you have to walk 130 metres, deep into the permafrost. As you go further into the mountain the temperature plunges, the seeds inside essentially frozen in time. Almost every country in the world is represented in the vault.

In the back corner of the freezing storage room, there is a little piece of Australia ~ a stack of bright blue boxes containing 11,000 seeds, the majority of them deposited in 2014 by the Australian Grains Genebank and the Australian Pastures Genebank. More deposits of Australian seeds are planned for next year.

Next to the Australian boxes sits the Austrian collection, and close by collections from a host of countries, including Russia, Ukraine, India, Mexico, Uzbekistan, Germany and Peru.

This truly is a global project, and nothing underlines that more than the presence of two cherry red wooden boxes from North Korea.

North Korea seedsThe Croptrust, which funds and runs the vault in conjunction with the Norwegian Government, sees this as evidence that here deep in the Norwegian permafrost seed safety takes precedence over politics.

Bente Navaerdal’s job involves checking that the vault remains at a steady -18 Celsius. If a computer in her office indicates a slight fluctuation she immediately sends in one of her technical people to check it out. Her screens will also register any intruders, not that it’s likely.

“That has never happened,” she says. “I can’t imagine anyone wants to try to break into the vault, because no-one breaks into anything up here on Svalbard. We don’t have that type of crime up there.”

The Seed bank has assisted earlier than expected: the bloody conflict in Syria has left scientists at an important gene bank in Aleppo ~ where new strains of drought- and heat-resistant wheat have been developed over time ~ unable to continue their work in recent years.

Now, with no sign of conditions in Syria improving, scientists last year began recovering their critical inventory of seeds, sourced from around the Fertile Crescent and beyond, that have been in safekeeping beneath the Arctic ice at the Global Seed Bank.

The seeds are being planted at new facilities in Lebanon and Morocco, allowing scientists to resume the important research they’ve been doing for decades, away from the barrel bombs of Aleppo.

Re-post ~ Seeds of Salvation | ABC 
See More ~ Arctic ‘Doomsday Vault’ opens to retrieve vital seeds for Syria | CNN

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