Svalbard's "Doomsday Vault" 10 years

Monday 26 February 2018 marked the 10 year anniversary of the opening of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.

Run by the non-profit Crop Trust based in Berlin, and majority funded by the Norwegian government (along with private donations), the purpose of the Vault is to preserve food crop seeds from around the world. It acts as a backup to other seed banks around the globe (thus the nickname "Doomsday Vault"), working to ensure that problems from natural or man-made disasters won't be able to cause crops to go extinct. Whether by global warming writ large, a growing hungry world population, or wars such as in Syria, the biodiversity of our planet is under pressure. The Vault stores the world's largest collection of crop biodiversity to ensure that the mankind can maintain the variety nature has provided such that solutions to future challenges can be found.

On the 10th anniversary, a great deal has been written about the Vault. Some particularly useful pieces include:

  • The Norwegian government website has an article discussing both the purpose of the Vault and the events connected to the 10 year anniversary. Including the anniversary-timed delivery of 76000 new seeds which bring the total stored to over 1 million for the first time. 1 million seed samples are now stored in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.
  • The Chicago Tribune has written an excellent overview entitled Dispelling myths about Arctic Circle's famed 'doomsday' seed vault on its 10th anniversary. There is discussion of the multitude of scientific purposes for the Vault and some of its history.
  • In 2016 and 2017 a spate of articles was written about a rain event (itself global warming linked) which allowed some water to leak into the entrance of the Vault. While the seeds are stored deep in the frozen permafrost and were never in danger, plans are moving to upgrade the facility to further insure against future risks. Local Svalbard journalist Mark Sabbatini wrote about the challenges and the upgrade plan in his piece on massive upgrade or mishap - 100M kroner overhaul proposed on seed vault’s 10th birthday – nearly triple original cost of ‘fix’.
  • The Vault itself is not open to the public, but a detailed interactive tour is available here on the Crop Trust website. The Norwegian government's website also has a flickr page with a wide variety of pictures of the Vault.
  • The top contributor to the Vault's seed collection is the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT). A little of what that entails from the perspective of the organization doing the backups is discussed here: Seed savers celebrate “Doomsday Vault” tenth anniversary.

Svalbard itself is experiencing climate change on a massive scale. There have now been over 7 straight years of every monthly temperature being above normal. Indeed, just a few days ago we had above freezing temperatures and heavy rain. This is February in a location just 1300 kilometres from the North Pole in the dead of winter when the temperature should be -16°C. The North Pole itself was above freezing.

While colder air (though still above normal) has returned, and while the Vault's storage location is safely buried more than 100 metres deep into the permafrost, Svalbard itself is showing the vital importance of the Vault.