The “Doomsday Seed Vault”

February 26, 2012 at 10:53 3 comments

Artic Seedbank - Artist impression

Deep inside a mountain on a remote island in the Svalbard archipelago, halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole, lies the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a fail-safe, state-of-the-art seed storage facility, built to stand the test of time – and of natural or manmade disasters.

Permanent protection for the world’s food crops

The purpose of the Vault is to store duplicates (‘back ups’) of all seed samples from the world’s crop collections. Permafrost and thick rock ensure that, even in the case of a power outage, the seed samples will remain frozen. The Vault can therefore be considered the ultimate insurance policy for the world’s food supply. It will secure, for centuries, millions of seeds representing every important crop variety available in the world today.

The entrance to the “fail-safe” seed vault will “gleam like a gem in the midnight sun,” signaling a priceless treasure within: seed samples of nearly every food crop of every country. The vault is designed to protect the agricultural heritage of humankind — the seeds essential to agriculture of every nation.

The purpose of the “Agricultural Noah’s Ark” is to conserve the seeds that will allow agriculture to adapt to challenges such as climate change and crop disease. The Arctic seed vault is part of a comprehensive global strategy being implemented by the Global Crop Diversity Trust to protect collections of crop genetic diversity around the world.

The site was chosen, in part, because the ground is perpetually frozen, providing natural back-up refrigeration that would preserve the seeds should electricity fail. Yet, even here, project architects had to consider how to offset the potential impacts of climate changes.

The design will accommodate even worst-case scenarios of global warming in two main ways. For one, the vault will be located high above any possible rise in sea level caused by global warming: the vault will be located some 130 metres above current sea level, ensuring that it will not be flooded. This puts it well above a seven metre rise that would accompany the melting of Greenland’s ice sheet, or even a 61 metre rise that could accompany an unlikely total meltdown of Antarctica.

Secondly, scientists determined the impact of rising air temperatures on the permafrost, which is normally between -4°C and -6°C (24.8°F and 21.2°F). They found that the permafrost would warm much more slowly than the air. In addition, the deeper into the mountain, the colder it will remain. Therefore, the vault will be located an extraordinary 120 metres into the rock, ensuring that rising external air temperatures will have no influence on the surrounding permafrost.

“Even climate change over the next 200 years will not significantly affect the permafrost temperature,” says project manager Magnus Bredeli Tveiten, with Statsbygg, the Norwegian government’s Directorate of Public Construction and Property.

To accomplish this, the 120-metre entry tunnel will penetrate through the permafrost, opening to two large chambers capable of holding three million seed samples. The tunnel and vaults will be excavated by means of well-known boring and blasting techniques, with the rock walls sprayed with concrete.

In contrast to this utilitarian interior, “the exterior structure shoots out of the mountainside,” Tveiten said. The entrance portal will be a narrow triangular structure of cement and metal, illuminated with artwork which changes according to the special lighting conditions of the Arctic. In the summer months, the entrance “will gleam like a gem in the midnight sun,” Tveiten says. Throughout the dark winter, when the sun never rises, it will glow with gently changing lights.
Security measures include several sets of reinforced doors between the entrance and the chambers, the absence of windows, and a video monitoring system.

Video

Footage from the inside of the vault:

More images on the construction work:

Sources:

More info

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Entry filed under: Nature, Science, Technology. Tags: , , , , , .

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Chuck early  |  May 2, 2012 at 23:09

    Say civilization is over as we know it; all are dead but a handful, how would they get there for one; if they do, how will they get in the vault to get seeds and carry to the climate to start over ?
    Thank you
    Chuck Early

    Reply
  • 2. In the name of the trees | Themes in SciFi Cinema  |  June 18, 2012 at 22:55

    […] Doomsday Seed Vault Opens: […]

    Reply
  • 3. oc  |  July 18, 2012 at 07:54

    good point Chuck

    Reply

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