The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is a secure backup facility for the world’s crop diversity on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen in the remote Arctic Svalbard archipelago or island group. The Seed Vault provides long-term storage of duplicates of seeds conserved in gene banks around the world.
This provides security for the world’s food supply against the loss of seeds in genebanks due to mismanagement, accident, equipment failures, funding cuts, war, sabotage, disease, and natural disasters.
The Seed Vault is managed under terms spelled out in a tripartite agreement among the Norwegian Government, the Crop Trust, and the Nordic Genetic Resource Center (NordGen).
The Norwegian government financed the entire 8.8 million dollar construction cost. They laid “the first stone” on June 19, 2006. It goes 390 feet inside a sandstone mountain, Spitsbergen, which was considered ideal because it lacked tectonic activity and had permafrost, which aids preservation.
The facility is further cooled by coal-powered refrigeration. A feasibility study prior to construction determined that the Seed Vault could preserve most major food crops’ seeds for hundreds of years. Some, including those of important grains, could potentially remain viable for thousands of years.
Running the length of the facility’s roof and down the front face to the entryway is an illuminated artwork named “Perpetual Repercussion” by Norwegian artist Dyveke Sanne that marks the location of the vault from a distance.
In 1984, the Nordic Gene Bank (now NordGen) began storing backup Nordic plant germplasm via frozen seeds in an abandoned coal mine outside of Longyearbyen. The Seed Vault officially opened on February 26, 2008, although the first seeds arrived in January 2008. In 2016, Gary Fowler released a book telling the story of the largest and most diverse seed collection ever assembled: more than a half billion seeds containing the world’s most prized crops, a safeguard against catastrophic starvation.
In 2010, a delegation of seven U.S. congressmen handed over a number of different varieties of chili pepper. For the Seed Vault’s 10th anniversary on 26 February 2018, a shipment of 70,000 samples was delivered to the facility, bringing the number of samples received to more than one million (not counting withdrawals).
As of June 2021, the Seed Vault conserves 1,081,026 distinct crop samples, representing more than 13,000 years of agricultural history. In 2019, the seed vault cost about $282,000 to maintain. Svalbard Global Seed Vault offers safe, free-of-charge, long-term storage of seed sample duplicates of the crop diversity stored in the world’s gene banks.
- Svalbard, Urban East Norwegian, also known as Spitsbergen, or Spitzbergen, is a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean. North of mainland Europe, it is about midway between the northern coast of Norway and the North Pole. The islands of the group range from 74° to 81° north latitude, and from 10° to 35° east longitude. The largest island is Spitsbergen, followed by Nordaustlandet and Edgeøya. The largest settlement is Longyearbyen. The islands were first used as a base by the whalers who sailed far north in the 17th and 18th centuries, after which they were abandoned. Coal mining started at the beginning of the 20th century, and several permanent communities were established. The Norwegian Store Norske and the Russian Arktikugol remain the only mining companies in place. Research and tourism have become important supplementary industries, with the University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS) and the Svalbard Global Seed Vault playing critical roles in the economy. [Back]
- Gene banks are a type of biorepository that preserves genetic material. For plants, this is done by in vitro storage, freezing cuttings from the plant, or stocking the seeds. The genetic material in a ‘gene bank’ is preserved in a variety of ways, such as freezing at -320.8° Fahrenheit in liquid nitrogen, being placed in artificial ecosystems, and being put in controlled nutrient mediums. [Back]