Seed Vault Celebrates Decade of Conservation

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault in the remote Arctic Svalbard archipelago recently accepted its 1 millionth seed deposit. . (Photo: Landbruks- og matdepartementet/Flickr)

As it celebrates a new milestone in its mission to preserve the world's precious seeds, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is also laying plans to better prepare for a warmer future.

The massive vault, located deep within a sandstone mountain in the remote Arctic Svalbard archipelago, took delivery earlier this week of more than 70,000 new crops seeds. This infusion, which coincided with the facility's 10th anniversary, now brings the total number of deposits to 1,059,646.

"The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is an iconic reminder of the remarkable conservation effort that is taking place every day, around the world and around the clock – an effort to conserve the seeds of our food crops," said Marie Haga, executive director of the Crop Trust.

You can take a rare inside look at the seed vault — or what the guide smartly calls the world's most important freezer — in the video below.

Some of the crop seeds recently deposited include varieties like black-eyed pea (a major protein source in Africa and South Asia) and samples of sorghum (major source of grain and feed for livestock), pearl millet and pigeon pea.

Despite the seed vault's location within a mountain surrounded by permafrost, it's planners could not fully anticipate over a decade ago how rapidly climate change would impact its setting.

In October 2016, an unusual heat wave in the region, coupled with heavy rain, caused flooding to intrude nearly 50 feet into the main access tunnel before freezing. While the water didn't breach the location where the seeds reside, Norwegian officials are nonetheless planning some $13 million worth of upgrades to stave off future incidents.

The proposed additions include waterproofing the tunnel walls, exterior drainage ditches, a new concrete access tunnel, and the construction of a service building to house emergency power, backup refrigeration units, and any other equipment that may significantly contribute to heat within the vault itself.

Seed varieties ready for cold storage at the Global Seed Bank.
Seed varieties ready for cold storage at the Global Seed Bank. (Photo: Landbruks/Flickr)

With these additional reinforcements in place, the vault should be able to preserve nearly its entire collection for several hundred or even thousands of years.

"Safeguarding such a huge range of seeds means scientists will have the best chance of developing nutritious and climate-resilient crops that can ensure future generations don’t just survive, but thrive," added Haga.