What Is The Doomsday Seed Vault

What Is The Doomsday Seed Vault?

  • The “doomsday” seed vault is the nickname of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.
  • It is a secure reserve of seeds for the crop diversity of the world.
  • It is located on the Norwegian Island of Spitsbergen above the Arctic Circle in the Svalbard archipelago.
  • The purpose of the seed vault is to provide long term storage of the duplicates of seed samples that are conserved throughout the world.
  • It provides safety and security for the food supply of the world in case of any incident that could lead to loss of seeds in the genebanks, such as accident, natural disasters, failure of equipment, and cutting of the funds.
  • The storage capacity of the vault is up to 4.5 million seed samples. 

How does it work?

  • The management of the seed vault is carried out under terms explicated in an agreement among three parties, that are; the Norwegian Government, the Crop Trust, and the Nordic Genetic Resource Center (NordGen).
  • The Kingdom of Norway is the owner of the seed vault.
  • The Crop Trust is the major provider of fundings. It not only provides funds for ongoing operations but also financially assists the depositors to prepare their shipments. 
  • The operations of the vault and maintenance of the public database of dipositers is carried out by the Nordic Genetic Resource Center (NordGen).
  • Guidance and advice are taken from an International Advisory Council, which include representatives from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), CGIAR, the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources, and many other organizations. 
  • The Svalbard seed vault works just like a secure deposit box in a bank. The bank only owns the building while the content of the box is the property of the depositor.
  • In the same way, the Government of Norway owns the seed vault, while seeds are the property of the depositing genebanks they send there. 
  • Seed samples’ deposit in the Svalbard seed vault does not build a legal transfer of genetic resources. This is known as “black box” in genbank terminology.

How Are Seeds Stored?

  • Seeds are stored in sealed and airtight three-layered thick foil packages, which are made up of aluminum. 
  • These packages are then kept in the plastic tote containers, which are then placed on metal shelving racks.
  • The temperature of the storage rooms is kept -18 ℃ (-0.4 ℉).
  • Such a low temperature and very low oxygen in the containers decreases metabolic activity in the seeds and delays its aging process.
  • The permafrost surrounding the vault will help in the maintenance of low temperatures if the power supply cuts or fails.

Who Has Access To Seeds Stored In The Doomsday Seed Vault 

  • Seed samples stored in the Vault are copies of the seeds stored in the depositing genebanks.
  • If someone (researchers, plant breeders, and others) want access to the seed samples stored in the Vault, they can not do so directly through the seed Vault.
  • But instead, they would request the depositing genebanks for the seed samples.
  • In most cases, seed samples in the genebanks are accessible according to the terms and conditions of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. Up to 148 countries approved this treaty.

Major Purposes Of The Seed Vault

  • The major purpose of the Svalbard seed vault is to store backups of the seed samples from the crop collections of the world.
  • The seed vault would provide protection and backup in case of any accidental or catastrophic loss of crop diversity stored in traditional seed banks throughout the world. 
  • The backup providing role of the Seed Vault was observed in the recent Syrian Civil War. The war created a situation due to which the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) was not able to maintain its genebank in Syria. Therefore, it was not able to distribute seed samples.
  • To regenerate those seeds, the ICARDA decided in 2015 to withdraw some of its backup samples it had stored at the seed Vault.
  • In 2017, ICARDA withdrew seeds for the second time on a larger scale.
  • The plantation and multiplication of seeds were carried out in Morocco and Lebanon. Some of the seed samples were then stored back in the Vault while some were added to the genebanks of ICARDA in Morocco and Lebanon.

How Secure Is The Seed Vault?

  • The area where the Vault is located is geologically very stable with low levels of humidity.
  • As the region is located at a higher altitude above the sea level, so the Vault is naturally secured from ocean flooding as stated by worst-case scenario sea level rises.
  • The location of the Vault is just 1,300 kilometers from the North Pole, which is not an easy place for visitors to reach. There are also no roads to the Vault and a person can go there only through a scheduled flight. This makes it more secure.
  • The permafrost surrounding it offers a natural freezing and provides a cost effective way to conserve seeds.

Interesting Facts About the Doomsday Seed Vault

  • The Svalbard Global Seed Vault or Doomsday Seed Vault provides protection to one of the most important natural resources on the planet Earth. Its mission is to keep crop seeds of the world safe and to provide backup in case of any world-scale catastrophe. 
  • Extremely low temperature, that is -18 ℃ (-0.4 ℉) and low humidity level in the vault ensures reduced metabolic activity of the seeds. Such conditions make the seeds viable for decades and even for centuries. 
  • The number of depositors that secured their crop samples in the seed vault was 87 ( as of June 2021).
  • Some indigenous communities are also included in the depositors. Representatives of the potato park “Parque de la Papa” in Peru deposited 750 samples of potatoes in the Vault in 2015. 
  • The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma became the first US Native American tribe to deposit 9 samples of heirloom food crops in the Vault, which existed before European colonization.
  • Time Magazine ranked the Svalbard Seed Vault at No. 6 in the ranking of Best Inventions of 2008.
  • The Project Management Institute ranked the Vault as the 10th most influential project of the past 50 years.
  • The Doomsday Seed Vault has also been described as “the Noah’s Ark of plant diversity”.

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