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The Svalbard Global Seed Vault

The seed vault, which was spearheaded by Fowler and built by the Norwegian government, currently contains 268,000 samples of seeds from the largest of more than 1,000 existing seed banks all over the world.

Each room is about 30 yards long, 10 yards wide and 6 yards high, and can contain roughly 1.5 million samples of seeds. “It will take thousands of years to fill it up,” Fowler says. The seeds are stored in small metal-foil, heat-sealed packages placed in boxes that are shelved in the chambers. “The temperature is naturally about -4 C (24.8 F) and we’re making it -18 C to -20 C (-.04 F to -4 F). Even if the power should fail, the seeds would last for decades.”

The vault is expected to remain naturally frozen for up to 200 years. Potentially, these stored seeds could help restart agricultural production in the wake of natural or human-caused disasters that may arise in the future. According to Fowler, some seeds may be able to last for thousands of years, but all seeds deteriorate eventually. His solution is this: “When the seed starts to lose viability, the depositing bank takes it out, grows new plants from it, gets new seeds from the plant and deposits fresh seeds in its own facility as well as in the vault. So we’ll have a steady supply of fresh seed coming in.”

The vault is engineered to withstand severe hazards, including nuclear war and earthquakes. In addition, security is plentiful, tight and high-tech at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.

“There are many huge problems in the world,” Fowler says. “But I can actually look people in the eye and say, ‘We can solve this one.’ And if we solve this problem of maintaining global crop diversity, we’ll help solve many other problems, like climate change. I don’t think it’s at all conceivable that human beings will adapt to climate change if agriculture doesn’t. And agriculture isn’t going to adapt if crops don’t. The mechanism for crop adaptation is diversity. We have the genetic resources, the technology, the people and the institutions to maintain crop diversity in current and changing climates, and the cost-benefit ratio is astronomical.”

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault