[permaculture] BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | 'Doomsday' vault design unveiled

Lawrence F. London, Jr. lfl at intrex.net
Thu Feb 8 22:48:54 EST 2007

Last Updated: Friday, 9 February 2007, 00:11 GMT
'Doomsday' vault design unveiled
By Mark Kinver
Science and nature reporter, BBC News
Artist's impression of the entrance to the vault

The final design for a "doomsday" vault that will house seeds from all known varieties of food crops has been unveiled 
by the Norwegian government.

The Svalbard International Seed Vault will be built into a mountainside on a remote island near the North Pole.

The vault aims to safeguard the world's agriculture from future catastrophes, such as nuclear war, asteroid strikes and 
climate change.

Construction begins in March, and the seed bank is scheduled to open in 2008.

The Norwegian government is paying the $5m (£2.5m) construction costs of the vault, which will have enough space to 
house three million seed samples.

See inside the Svalbard International Seed Vault

The collection and maintenance of the collection is being organised by the Global Crop Diversity Trust, which has 
responsibility of ensuring the "conservation of crop diversity in perpetuity".

"We want a safety net because we do not want to take too many chances with crop biodiversity," said Cary Fowler, the 
Trust's executive secretary.

"Can you imagine an effective, efficient, sustainable response to climate change, water shortages, food security issues 
without what is going to go in the vault - it is the raw material of agriculture."

Future proof

The seed vault will be built 120m (364ft) inside a mountain on Spitsbergen, one of four islands that make up Svalbard.

Map showing location of Svalbard (Image: BBC)

Dr Fowler said Svalbard, 1,000km (621 miles) north of mainland Norway, was chosen as the location for the vault because 
it was very remote and it also offered the level of stability required for the long-term project.

"We looked very far into the future. We looked at radiation levels inside the mountain, and we looked at the area's 
geological structure," he told BBC News.

"We also modelled climate change in a drastic form 200 years into future, which included the melting of ice sheets at 
the North and South Poles, and Greenland, to make sure that this site was above the resulting water level."

By building the vault deep inside the mountain, the surrounding permafrost would continue to provide natural 
refrigeration if the mechanical system failed, explained Dr Fowler.

'Living Fort Knox'

The Arctic vault will act as a back-up store for a global network of seed banks financially supported by the trust.

Dr Fowler said that a proportion of the seeds housed at these banks would be deposited at Svalbard, which will act as a 
"living Fort Knox".

Although the vault was designed to protect the specimens from catastrophic events, he added that it could also be used 
to replenish national seed banks.

"One example happened in September when a typhoon ripped through the Philippines and destroyed its seed bank," Dr Fowler 

"The storm brought two feet of water and mud into the bank, and that is the last thing you want in a seed bank."

Low maintenance

Once inside the vault, the samples will be stored at -18C (0F). The length of time that seeds kept in a frozen state 
maintain their ability to germinate depends on the species.

Freshwater ice (Image: P.Vermeij/Crop Diversity Trust)
The Arctic conditions will help keep the seeds in a frozen state
Some crops, such as peas, may only survive for 20-30 years. Others, such as sunflowers and grain crops, are understood 
to last for many decades or even hundreds of years.

Once the collection has been established at Svalbard, Dr Fowler said the facility would operate with very little human 

"Somebody will go up there once every year to physically check inside to see that everything is OK, but there will be no 
full-time staff," he explained.

"If you design a facility to be used in worst-case scenarios, they you cannot actually have too much dependency on human 

Cross-section of the 'doomsday' seed vault (Image: BBC)

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