Chilling Down Svalbard's Seed Saver


Svalbard seems like the last place on Earth to shelter the world's seeds in the event of a global catastrophe. In fact, Svalbard nearly is the proverbial ends of the Earth - it's a rocky, icy (pop. 2,400) archipelago of islands belonging to Norway - Svalbard means 'cold edge' in old Norse - way up in the Arctic Ocean. In addition to being cold, Svalbard is also dark - currently enjoying a 'Polar Night' of round-the-clock black that lasts until February. Makes southern Scandinavia seem like the Riviera. But if a possible global catastrophe just happens to have anything to do with global warming, than Svalbard is perfect for a global seed repository. For in addition to it being quite cold down in the rocky depths of Svalbard, it is one of those unique habitats - with a big population of polar bears - that is hugely affected by a changing climate. Svalbard's meteorological records shows a 4 degree C warming in the last 30 years.

Norway built the Global Seed Vault by hollowing out a huge tube in the jagged sandstone of Spitsbergen, Svalbard's largest island. The natural temperature down in the rock is a chilly -5, but has now started to be further chilled to -18 (Celsius) in anticipation of up to 4.5 million seeds samples. Even with global warming and unforeseen power outages the Vault could keep seeds viable for a long time. Norwegian engineers in charge of the project have figured out a way to rely on the low base temp of the rocks as a cold store, minimizing the need for refrigeration. The first seeds - wheat, barley, peas and more rare food seeds - are set to arrive early next year. Via ::Global Crop Diversity Trust