- CRITTER TALK
Norway is making a critical contribution to preserve the planet’s most important biodiversity: seeds from various plants all over the world. On a remote island in Spitsbergen, Norway, is a facility located on Svalbard Island. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault (the Doomsday Vault) is approximately 810 miles from the North Pole, is a key facility in preserving the world’s food supply.
The Svalbard Seed Vault’s mission seeks to preserve genetic diversity for centuries and, in some cases, thousands of years. In case of natural disasters, climate change, wars, lack of funding, poor agricultural management, and other threats to the world food source, these organic seed and genetic material are protect and will be available to replenish extinct crops.
The vault contains hundreds of thousands of seeds and is intended to ensure safe storage of hundreds of millions of seeds for several centuries or more. The site should remain dry for approximately 200 years, even if the ice caps melt. The facility is high enough above sea level to ward off rising waters in case of global climate change. The area has no tectonic activity. The facility consists of three separate underground chambers which can store 1.5 million diverse seed samples.
The seeds are stored in four-ply, heat sealed envelopes, and then placed into plastic tote containers on metal shelving racks. The storage rooms are kept 0°F) and staff limits oxygen to ensure low metabolism and delay seed aging of the seeds.
Cary Fowler, Executive Director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust stated the facility will include the world’s largest and most diverse collections of rice, wheat, maize and beans. A number of traditional landraces of these crops would have been lost had they not been collected and stored in the gene banks. For example, the facility houses a 90 different species of maize. These seeds will be shipped from the Americas until the entire collection of maize is stored in Svalbard.
Fowler also stated:
We need to understand that gene banks are not seed museums but the repositories of vital, living resources that are used almost every day in the never-ending battle against major threats to food production. We’re going to need this diversity to breed new varieties that can adapt to climate change, new diseases and other rapidly emerging threats.
There are 1,400 crop repositories in the world. However, many genetic seed banks lose samples due to mismanagement, equipment failures, funding cuts, and natural disasters. In recent years, war and civil upheaval destroyed crop diversity collections around the world.
A polar bear ice sculpture guards the entrance to this vital resource. CGIAR reports:
Running the length of the building’s flat roof and down the front face to the doors of the building’s concrete entry is a work of art that marks the location of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault from a great distance. In Norway, government-funded construction projects exceeding a certain cost are required to include some kind of art work. KORO, the Norwegian State’s agency overseeing art in public spaces, engaged the Norwegian artist Dyveke Sanne to make a lighting installation. The piece highlights the importance of light, and the qualities of light, in the Arctic. The roof and vault entrance are filled with highly-reflective stainless steel, mirrors, and prisms. The installation acts as a beacon, reflecting polar light in the summer months, while in the winter, a network of 200 fiber-optic cables gives the piece a muted greenish-turquoise and white light.
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