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Planet Care

174: Global Seed Vault

 

Problem:

Is there a way to conserve flora for eventual replanting to counteract the biological annihilation of the Holocene or 6th Extinction?

Solution:

An impregnable seed vault.


It was the idea of two men: Morgan Carrington “Cary” Fowler, Jr, Executive Director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust and Henry Shands, Head of the U.S. National Seed Bank in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Although big international seed banks were fuelling plant-breeding efforts all over the world, including in the United States and RBG at Wakehurst, Sussex (housing more than 92,500 seed collections), Fowler and Shandon realised that these were in Mexico and in Colombia, Peru, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Syria, Philippine, that are not secure simply because of their location. They selected Norway as a safer location.

On June 19, 2006, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, and Iceland’s prime ministers ceremonially laid “the first stone” of a giant global storage vault for plant seeds. It was opened two years later.

It is tucked into the side of the sandstone Platåberget mountain located near the village of Longyearbyen, Svalbard, a group of islands north of mainland Norway. Located about 1,300 km (810 mi) from the North Pole, the “Doomsday” Global Seed Vault serves as a safe haven for the world’s vast variety of edible plant seeds.

In the event of a nuclear war or catastrophic natural disaster, the vault keeps “back-up” seeds frozen and safe at a temperature of an icy minus 0.4° F (minus 18° C) until they can be reclaimed. Should the power at the facility fail for any reason, the seeds will likely stay frozen thanks to the Arctic permafrost that covers the vault.

The preciousness of such seeds is reflected in the inaccessible nature of the vault. Anyone seeking access to the seeds themselves will have to pass through four locked doors: the heavy steel entrance doors, a second door approximately 377 ft (115m.) down the tunnel and finally the two keyed air-locked doors. Keys are coded to allow access to different levels of the facility. Not all keys unlock all doors.

To-date the vault holds just over 2.5 million seed samples from all over the world, but it is capable of holding many more. In total, it has the capacity to store 4.5 million seed samples.

Each sample is typically about 500 seeds, so a maximum of 2.25 billion seeds can be stored in the facility giving a huge diversity – more than 5,000 different species, about 1,000 genera crops including more than 150,000 different kinds of rice and more than 150,000 different kinds of wheat.

The vault has proved itself when seeds were withdrawn needed to replace plant material stored in a gene bank (a facility that stores genetic material). The national seed bank of the Philippines was damaged by flooding and later destroyed by a fire; the seed banks of war-torn Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq having been lost completely: all have been replaced.

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