Located on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen near Longyearbyen in the remote Arctic Svalbard archipelago, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault (more commonly known as the Doomsday Vault) is a global seed vault that serves as a massive backup storage facility. The vault safeguards seeds from any country of the world (even North Korea) and duplicates seed samples to protect them from environmental disasters, catastrophic wars, and any other danger that would clear the plant’s species from existence.
This massive storage facility has a capacity to store 4.5 million varieties of crops. Each seed variety contains an average of 500 seeds, and so a maximum of 2.5 billion seeds can be stored inside the vault. The vault holds the most diverse collection of food crop seeds in the world, that ranges from food staples from Africa and Asia like maize and rice, to European and South American varieties like potatoes and lettuce.
The typical temperature of the vault is -18ºC, and each seed variety are stored and sealed with custom made three-ply foil packages. Each package is stored on a shelve, and each shelf is carefully labeled and coded according to variety. With the low temperature and low moisture levels inside the vault, it ensures that no metabolic activity will happen in order to keep the seeds viable for decades. Even if the vault goes without power, the arctic permafrost and thick rock encoded outside the fault makes sure the seed samples will remain frozen.
However, last month the Seed Vault was faced with a warning that this permafrost leaked into the vault’s entrance tunnel.
With the risk of having further leakage that could put the seeds at risk, the seed bank is now receiving a multimillion dollar revamp.
The new renovation will improve the vault’s alternative access tunnels, drainage ditches, and will increase the security surveillance around the vault. The Norwegian government will fund its $9 million dollar construction bill.
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is actually one of the most heavily guarded places in the world. By just looking at its entrance, one can be fooled for how large this facility actually is. What you see from the outside is built just for looks, and doesn’t look like much, but in actuality the vault is built 150 meters deep into a mountain. Once you enter, there is a long 430 ft tunnel for trolleys to carry seeds to the main chamber. The main chamber contains three vault rooms, and currently only the middle room is filled with seeds.
The vault has already had some success even though it has only been functioning since 2008. In 2015 the war in Syria destroyed plant varieties that caused them to request seeds from the vault for revival of plant varieties. This was the first time any seed has been taken out of the vault. After the breeding program and its revival success, the seeds were able to be returned to the bank.