How Norway Is Trying to Protect Its Underground Doomsday Seed Vault From Climate Change
Nestled inside a mountain on a remote island between Norway and the North Pole sits the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a doomsday vessel created to maintain the world's seed crops.
Meant to withstand the man-made or natural destruction of the Earth, Norway's underground vault has already felt the impacts of one particularly powerful force — climate change. Now the country is investing $12.7 million to upgrade the facility to protect it from a warmer, more volatile climate.
The improvements will include a new concrete access tunnel, emergency power storage, refrigerating units and other electrical equipment, Norway's government said in a statement last week. Last year, melting permafrost caused by warmer temperatures posed a risk for flooding the facility, which currently carries more than 890,000 samples of crops from all over the world.
Stored at about zero degrees Fahrenheit, the vault can carry up to 4.5 million kinds of crops, with samples of up to 500 seeds each. That means, according to the project's website, the vault can hold up to 2.5 billion seeds in total. The food vault was created as "the ultimate insurance policy for the world's food supply." Governments can request seeds from it in the event of disasters.
"It is a great and important task to safeguard all the genetic material that is crucial to global food security," said Jon Georg Dale, Norway's Minister of Agriculture and Food, in a statement.
The vault itself was built a decade ago and was constructed in an abandoned coal mine. Norway's government said the vault is in an "ideal location for long-term seed storage" since it is "well above" sea level and surrounded by permafrost, which provides natural cooling, according to the project's website. Svalbard is also accessible by plane.
Ultimately, the seed vault "is the final back up," says its website.