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Nation Makes First Withdrawal from the Global Seed Vault

Syria’s civil war has not only taken its toll on the citizens and infrastructure of this Middle East nation but also on agriculture. By request by the International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas, seeds were withdrawn from the Global Seed Vault to replenish those in a gene bank in the Syrian city of Aleppo. The Aleppo gene bank, though damaged, is partially functioning but unable to grow seeds and distribute them within the country. Thousands of seeds, including wheat, barley, lentils and chickpeas were safely delivered in secret.

Michael Koch, of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, which funded the seed shipments, says,

It just shows that the global system of fail-safe back-up works.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault opened in 2008 as free, fail-safe storage of seeds from food and crops from around the world in case of nuclear or natural disaster. Located on the remote archipelago of Svalbard, 810 miles from the North Pole in Norway, the vault is located inside the sandstone Plateau Mountain. It offers safe and secure long-term storage in cold and dry rock vaults. The building is secure against external hazards and the effects of climate change.

The vault was established and funded by the Norwegian government and operated by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food. It coordinates daily operations with the Nordic Gene Resource Centre and the Global Crop Diversity Trust.

Exterior Facade of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault

Exterior Facade of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault

Because government-funded projects exceeding a certain cost must include artwork, artist Dyveke Sanne was commissioned to create the building’s unique entrance façade. Reflective stainless steel triangles of various sizes, mirrors and prisms reflect light and are illuminated at night.

The Tubular Entrance Tunnel

The Tubular Entrance Tunnel

Inside, a tubular entrance tunnel of corrugated steel pipe leads to three separate vaults. A maximum of 400 seed types sealed in four-ply heat-sealed aluminum packets and are stored inside sealed plastic crates stacked on metal shelving racks. Mined coal keeps the seeds cool to -0.4 Fahrenheit (18 Celsius). Even if the power fails, the vault should stay frozen and sealed for at least 200 years. The seeds of over 4,000 (tens of thousands of varieties of food and crops seeds) plant species are recorded and stored, duplicated of seed samples stored in national, regional and international gene banks.

The Interior of the Global Seed Vault with Shelves of Seed Storage

The Interior of the Global Seed Vault with Shelves of Seed Storage

Like any secure, guarded bank it has both withdrawals and deposits. Recently, seven boxes of seeds (430 different vegetable seeds) from the United States and Japan (3,000 different types of barley seeds) were deposited in the seed vault.

If Doomsday occurs, survivors have a place they can bank on to replenish the earth with flora, fauna and food.