Deep within an Arctic mountain lies a vault that has been dubbed the “Noah’s Ark” of biological diversity. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is located in a remote Norwegian archipelago 1,000 km from the North Pole, and it has the capacity to store 4.5 million individual seeds of all crop types from countries all around the world. It aims to protect them from both natural and man-made disasters—global warming, diseases, nuclear warfare, earthquakes, and even asteroids. The frigid, out-of-the-way location makes it ideal for protection: the region has low tectonic activity, and the vault’s temperatures are kept at –18 degrees Celsius so the seeds can be preserved for thousands of years. It might not seem like a big deal, but preserving seed samples is crucial—their raw genetic materials may one day be needed to adapt crops to endure climate change, droughts, and other catastrophes, and thus secure the global food supply. There are 1,400 seed vaults in the world, but Svalbard is considered one of the most protected areas, and so provides back-up should the others be damaged—war has already wiped out seed banks in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a typhoon flooded one in the Phillipines. The Svalbard bank, however, boasts blast-proof doors, an airlock, and 130m of Arctic mountain to protect the precious seed samples—not to mention the polar bears prowling outside.
I hope armoured bears are keeping watch in Svalbard.