Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Svalbard Global Seed Vault

In keeping with the mood of doom and panic that we all seem to wallow in so much these days (thanks for nothing, cable news), I wanted to share some pics of the Svalbard Global Seed vault. The vault is located above the Arctic Circle, on the island of Spitsbergen in the Svalbard archipelago in Norway. The idea behind the vault is the preservation of thousands of different types of seeds, millions or billions of individual seeds, for possible future use after some type of catastrophe. The vault holds spare copies of seeds from seed banks and genebanks around the world. The island is about 810 miles south of the North Pole. One of the reasons to locate the vault there is that it is an extremely remote area, very unlikely to become embroiled in any kind of large scale conflict or environmental disaster. The other reason is that it is pretty much completely frozen there. All the time. Low temperature and humidity are essential for preserving the seeds should the power fail in the vault.

The vault was really pretty inexpensive to build, at around 9 million dollars and it was paid for by the Government of Norway, and storage of seeds is free of charge, which is nice. There are no permanent employees at the facility, which would probably lead to the place being the site of some kind of bitchin' raves were it not on a frozen island in the middle of nowhere.

The seed bank itself is located almost 400 feet inside the mountain, and protected by a series of airlocks. The seeds themselves are held in 4 layer plastic packets and they are given a heat activated sealant to keep out moisture. The seed vault is kept at about 0 degrees Fahrenheit in order to provide an environment conducive to extreme long term survival of the seeds. The island of Spitsbergen was chosen due its almost total lack of medium and large scale tectonic activity. The permafrost layer serves as a backup to the refrigeration units. Even if the power or equipment fails, the vault was designed so that it would take several weeks for the internal temperature to reach the level of the surrounding bedrock. (a toasty 27 degrees) The site is also situated more than 400 feet above sea level to eliminate any danger of flooding, even in the event of a Stephen Spielberg or Kevin Costner-esqe icecap melting disaster. So it is nice to see that they were thinking ahead.

And, even if the whole "save the world from starvation" thing doesn't work, it would still make an awesome lair for a Bond villain.

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