Norway's Doomsday Vault

Posted on June 19, 2006

Norway has announced that it is building a Doomsday Vault deep in a frozen mountainside on an secluded Arctic island. The Vault will house seeds to repopulate the world with food in case of global catastrophe.

...Norway's ambitious project is on its way to becoming reality Monday when construction begins on the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, designed to house as many as 3 million of the world's crop seeds. Prime ministers of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Iceland were to attend the cornerstone ceremony on Monday morning near the town of Longyearbyen in Norway's remote Svalbard Islands, roughly 620 miles from the North Pole.

Norway's Agriculture Minister Terje Riis-Johansen has called the vault a "Noah's Ark on Svalbard." Its purpose is to ensure the survival of crop diversity in the event of plant epidemics, nuclear war, natural disasters or climate change, and to offer the world a chance to restart growth of food crops that may have been wiped out. The seeds, packaged in foil, would be stored at such cold temperatures that they could last hundreds, even thousands, of years, according to the independent Global Crop Diversity Trust. The trust, founded in 2004, has also worked on the project and will help run the vault, which is scheduled to open and start accepting seeds from around the world in September 2007.

Oil-rich Norway first proposed the idea a year ago, drawing wide international interest, Riis-Johansen said. The Svalbard Archipelago, 300 miles north of the mainland, was selected because it is located far from many threats and has a consistently cold climate. Those factors will help protect the seeds and safeguard their genetic makeup, Norway's Foreign Ministry said. The vault will have thick concrete walls, and even if all cooling systems fail, the temperature in the frozen mountain will never rise above freezing due to permafrost, it said.

The Vault will cost $4.8 million to build. There are already 1,400 seed banks all over the world to be used in case crops are wiped out. But none of those seed banks is as secure as the one the Norwegians are building. Any country can deposit seeds in the new vault; the Global Crop Diversity Trust is coordinating and helping to pay for the deposits for developing countries, which is really a pretty cool thing.

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