On February 26, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault officially opened. Seeds from all over the world will be placed in three caverns carved 130 meters into the permafrost outside the town of Longyearbyen on the island of Svalbard just 500 miles from the North Pole. Norway has provided the funding for the project and developed it in collaboration with the Global Crop Diversity Trust
Ola Westengen, operation manager, said the seeds include several thousand potato seeds from Peru, 30,000 samples of different beans from Columbia, 47,000 seed samples of wheat and 10,000 types of maize from Mexico, 30,000 seeds of mostly barley and wheat from the Middle East and 70,000 varieties of rice from the seed bank in the Philippines. The seed vault can hold up to 4.5 million batches of seeds from all the known varieties of the world’s main food crops.
Twenty-three hundred people live on this Norwegian archipelago which was selected not only for it’s remote location far away from conflicts but also because of its climate. Even if the freezer system in the vault fails the permafrost will keep the seeds frozen and the fortified walls, recently tested by the biggest earthquake in Norway’s history, have been built to withstand nuclear missile attacks. The vault is also built 130 meters above current sea level, high enough that it would not flood if the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets melt entirely due to global warming, and is protected by high walls of fortified concrete, an armoured door, a sensor alarm and the native polar bears that roam the region.
The thought that polar bears are the security guards for a doomsday vault containing the seeds of what might be the future of the human race, given a worst case scenario, and the fact that polar bears are in danger of becoming extinct because of the actions of the human race, gives one pause. Or it did me anyway.
So, maybe we should go here and find out how we can help the bears stick around.
See previous stories on the Global Seed Vault in Wildflower Stew at: http://goodwordswan.wildflowerstew.com/2007/06/04/saving-the-seeds/ and http://goodwordswan.wildflowerstew.com/2007/03/20/we-need-this//
See more photos of the Seed Vault here.