'Noah’s Ark' seed vault opens
Feb 29,2008 00:00 by Bend_Weekly_News_Sources

A vault designed to pro­tect va­nish­ing seed va­rie­ties for fu­ture gener­a­t­ions opened Feb. 26 on a re­mote Arc­tic is­land.

The Sval­bard Glob­al Seed Vault, a pro­ject of the Nor­we­gian go­vern­ment, re­ceived in­au­gu­ral ship­ments of 100 mil­lion seeds that orig­i­nat­ed in over 100 coun­tries. 

The seed vault's entrance juts out from a mountainside. (Credit: Mari Tefre/Global Crop Diversity Trust)

With de­posits rang­ing from un­ique va­ri­eties of Af­ri­can and Asian food sta­ples such as maize, rice, wheat, cow­pea, and sor­ghum to Eu­ro­pe­an and South Amer­i­can va­ri­eties of egg­plant, let­tuce, bar­ley, and po­ta­to, the first de­posits rep­re­sent what of­fi­cials called the most com­pre­hen­sive and di­verse col­lec­tion of food crop seeds held any­where.

At the open­ing cer­e­mo­ny, Nor­we­gian Prime Min­is­ter Jens Stoltenberg un­locked the cham­ber and, with Af­ri­can No­bel Peace Prize-winning en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist Wan­gari Maathai, placed the first seeds in­side. 

Eu­ro­pe­an Com­mis­sion Pres­ident José Man­u­el Bar­roso along with dig­ni­tar­ies and ag­ri­cul­ture ex­perts from around the globe de­posited ad­di­tion­al seeds. Nor­we­gian mu­si­cians al­so per­formed at the open­ing cer­e­mo­ny, held 130 meters deep in a fro­zen moun­tain.

Built near the vil­lage of Long­year­byen on the is­land of Spits­ber­gen, Nor­way, the vault at its in­cep­tion con­tains 268,000 dis­tinct seed sam­ples—each from a dif­fer­ent farm or field. Each sam­ple may con­tain hun­dreds of seeds or more. In all, the day’s ship­ments weighed some 10 tons.

The vault is part of what its pro­po­nents call an un­prec­e­dent­ed ef­fort to pro­tect the plan­et’s rap­idly di­min­ish­ing bio­di­vers­ity. 

The ge­net­ic di­vers­ity of crops is es­sen­tial for food pro­duc­tion, yet sci­en­tists say it’s be­ing lost. The vault, dug deep in­to the fro­zen rock of an Arc­tic moun­tain, is meant to se­cure for cen­turies, or long­er, hun­dreds of mil­lions of seeds rep­re­senting eve­ry im­por­tant crop va­ri­e­ty avail­a­ble in the world to­day. As well as pro­tecting against the dai­ly loss of di­vers­ity, the vault is al­so seen as a last-resort bul­wark for restart­ing ag­ri­cul­tur­al pro­duc­tion at the re­gion­al or glob­al lev­el in the wake of a nat­u­ral or man-made dis­as­ter. Con­tin­gen­cies for cli­mate change have been worked in­to the plan. Even in the worst-case sce­nar­i­os of glob­al warm­ing, the vault rooms will re­main nat­u­ral­ly fro­zen for up to 200 years, its de­sign­ers say.

“With cli­mate change and oth­er forc­es threat­en­ing the di­vers­ity of life that sus­tains our plan­et, Nor­way is proud to be play­ing a cen­tral role in cre­at­ing a facil­ity ca­pa­ble of pro­tecting what are not just seeds, but the fun­da­men­tal build­ing blocks of hu­man civ­il­iz­a­tion,” said Nor­way’s Prime Min­is­ter Jens Stoltenberg.



Courtesy Global Crop Diversity Trust and World Science staff