Svalbard Global Seed Bank opens its doors

In an ideal world, Svalbard Global Seed Bank in Norway rarely needs to open its doors. The so-called “doomsday vault” contains 1.1 million seed samples from around 6000 plant species, which serve as insurance against natural and man-made disasters. As Reuters reports, the arctic fortress was unlocked for the first time in 2022 – this time to make deposits instead of withdrawals.

On Monday, February 14, Germany, Sudan, Uganda, New Zealand and Lebanon sent samples of key crops to the bank on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen. The Lebanese contribution comes from the International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas, ICARDA for short. In 2015, ICARDA was the first group to withdraw material from the bank to replenish seeds destroyed in the Syrian war. In the meantime, the organization has moved from Aleppo to Beirut and has rebuilt its seed stores. Its collections at home have become so robust that ICARDA is able to deposit around 8000 samples in the global seed vault this week.

The Svalbard Global Seed Bank began operations in 2008 as a physical backup drive for the world’s harvest. The 11,000-square-foot facility is built into the side of an arctic mountain in hopes that its remote location on the frozen tundra will save it from wars and rising temperatures that are threatening crops elsewhere on the planet.

But as we’ve seen over the past few years, the global seed bank isn’t entirely insensitive. Melting permafrost inundated the vault in 2017, and in 2020 the Svalbard archipelago on which it sits hit a record high of 21°C. Luckily, no seed samples were damaged in either case, and the facility has many safeguards in place to protect its prized contents from disaster.

As more seeds are added to the catalogue, the Seed Vault will close its doors again on February 18th. It is planned to open it for deposits twice more this year: once from June 6th to June 10th and again from October 24th to October 27th.

[h/t Reuters]

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