Deakin Communicating Science 2016

EES 200/101

Doomsday Vault

When you hear the word “doomsday” you immediately start to think about the end of the world and life as we know it.
Norway, a forward-thinking country, has already prepared for when “doomsday”, or in better words a global catastrophe occurs.

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At a first glance, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault looks like a super-stylish evil villain lair. However, this vault could help to keep humanity alive.

But what exactly is the seed vault you ask?
This vault, which was established in January 2008, is a fail-safe seed storage facility and has been built to withstand the challenge of man-made or natural disasters. The Svalbard Seed Vault is the world’s largest collection of crop diversity – and for good reasons too.

Before I go into further detail about the vault, this short video explains the general idea of the Svalbard seed vault.

Firstly, let’s start with the location.norway map
Situated on a remote island in the Svalbard Archipelago, halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole, the seed vault lies deep inside a mountain.
This location is perfect for long-term seed storage for various reasons:

  • Svalbard is the farthest north a person can fly on a scheduled flight, offering a remote location that is nevertheless accessible.
  • The area is geologically stable and humidity levels are low, creating low metabolic activity.
  • The vault is well above sea level, protected from flooding.
  • The permafrost offers natural freezing, providing a cost effective and fail-safe method to conserve seeds. (However, seeds can be frozen at cryonic temperatures which pauses all molecular motion, vastly increasing the shelf life of the genetic material (wiseGEEK, 2016).

I know you’re probably wondering what the purpose is. Well, this vault was created due to the recognition of the vulnerability of the world’s gene-banks. Seed banks are an important way to try and conserve the world’s agriculture. “Ensuring food security, adapting to climate change, safeguarding biodiversity, protecting nutritional security, reducing poverty and ensuring sustainable agriculture are just six reasons why it matters to conserve crop diversity.” (Trust, 2014)

The seed vault stores multiple samples of seeds from around the world’s crop collections, for millions of centuries. It allows for important crop variability throughout creating a final gene bank back-up for the world.

So why is this particular vault so important?
Throughout the world, there are more than 1,700 gene-banks that hold collections of food crops for safety. However, the majority of these are quite vulnerable, being exposed to natural catastrophes and war, and poor management mixed with a lack of funding. Svalbard provides a vault that has the ability to protect seed and crop variety, decreasing the chances of irreversible loss of crop variety.Picture1

The way the vault works is very precise.
The seeds are sealed into custom made three-ply foil packages, which are placed inside a black box and stored on shelves inside the vault. The packages are heat-sealed to prevent any moisture from getting into the seed sample.

Currently the vault holds more than 860,000 samples of seeds from around the globe. The vault has enough storage space to hold up to 4.5 million varieties of crops.

The vault requires a temperature of -18ºC in order for optimal seed storage. Due to the low moisture and temperature levels inside the vault, the seed are able to remain viable for long periods of time, ensuring low metabolic activity.

For a complete overview of the samples stored in the Vault, take a look at NordGen’s public online database.

Want to see the vault for yourself? Take an interactive tour!

SOURCES
Trust, T. (2016). Svalbard Global Seed Vault – Crop Trust. [online] Crop Trust. Available at: https://www.croptrust.org/what-we-do/svalbard-global-seed-vault/ [Accessed 5 Apr. 2016].
Ha, T. (2014). A keeper of seeds hopes to save the world from starvation. [online] ideas.ted.com. Available at: http://ideas.ted.com/a-keeper-of-seeds-hopes-to-save-the-world-from-starvation/utm_campaign=social&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_content=ideas-blog&utm_term=global-social%20issues [Accessed 5 Apr. 2016].
BBC News. (2016). The gloomy Arctic seed bank that’s key to future crops – BBC News. [online] Available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-34658200 [Accessed 5 Apr. 2016].
wiseGEEK. (2016). What is a Tuber? (with pictures). [online] Available at: http://www.wisegeek.org/what-is-a-tuber.htm [Accessed 3 May 2016].

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2 comments on “Doomsday Vault

  1. bnewma
    April 19, 2016

    Wow, what an amazing concept. I think it’s fantastic that people have been thinking this far ahead for years and years. The interactive tour of the seed vault is really impressive, it’s incredible to think about the funds and research that must have gone into the construction alone. It’s even more amazing to me that the database containing every species stored within the vault is open to the public. The entire vault is absolutely fascinating. Construction must have taken years, the interactive tour goes so far into the mountain behind the entrance I can’t help but be impressed. I’d love to hear more about the history and construction of the vault.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. nquilty
    April 27, 2016

    Very interesting idea but great to see countries have thought ahead with what may happen if a catastrophic event was to happen. I was thinking that with all countries knowing the exact location of the vault, will it make the vault vulnerable in the event of a war as the victorious countries will find it all too easy to stop access by their opponents. I wonder if maybe a discrete location should be used and not published for all to see rather than just make the location remote in the hope nobody will see the worth in going there. You post is really informative though, just thought I would add some debate about the effectiveness of this strategy. Great read

    Like

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This entry was posted on April 15, 2016 by in Burwood - Wednesday 12pm.

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