Situated around 1,300 km (or 810 mi) from the North Pole in the remote Arctic Svalbard archipelago, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault stores more than 850,000 seed samples, intended for use in case of natural disasters and global catastrophe. Constructed on Spitsbergen, a distant Norwegian island, the incredibly futuristic facility, nicknamed “doomsday seed bank”, is designed to preserve biodiversity, by storing copies of a variety of plant seeds that are currently kept in gene banks across the world.
The seed bank is covered almost entirely with permafrost, and is actually built nearly 120 meters (about 390 ft) inside a mountain on the island. Its unique location means that the vault will remain erect even when faced with natural disasters. According to the developers, the island’s lack of significant tectonic activity and the presence of permafrost actually facilitate preservation. Perched 130 meters (approx. 430 ft) above the sea level, the area will quite possibly remain dry if the ice caps melt sometime in the future.
Built with funding, worth $9 million, from the Norwegian government, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is currently being managed jointly by the Global Crop Diversity Trust (GCDT), Norway’s government and the Nordic Genetic Research Center (NordGen). A major chunk of the facility’s operational costs are provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, along with several other governments. It runs on power generated using locally-mined coal.
Functional since February of 2008, the structure has the capacity to store up to 4.5 million seed samples. Its advanced security systems will keep it safe and secure, even when threatened with some sort of catastrophe. Seeds from all over the world are sent to the vault, where they are carefully placed inside special, sturdy packets, and then heat-sealed to remove moisture. The facility, the developers believe, could preserve most crop seeds for hundreds of years, and some for nearly thousands of years.
Shaped like a triangle, the seed vault features an artwork running along its front face, from the roof all the way to the entryway. This is in keeping with the Norwegian government’s legislation, according to which projects that exceeda certain construction cost must include some kind of artwork. Conceived by artist Dyveke Sanne, the installation, which is clearly visible from high up in the sky, is in fact covered with a combination of prisms, mirrors as well as reflective steel.
The irradiant artwork is designed such that it reflects polar lights during the summer months. In winter, however, as many as 200 fiber-optic cables create a muted white and turquoise glow. According to Cary Fowler, the head of GCDT, the project:
… ensures that, one day, all of humanity’s existing food crop varieties would be safely protected.
To know more about the facility, head over to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault’s official website.