Question: In the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, a secure vault houses what essential resource for the future of humankind?
Answer: The world’s largest collection of plant seeds
Deep within the icy and remote terrain of the Arctic, a giant vault safeguards a vital collection of agricultural biodiversity. It’s known as the Global Seed Vault and it protects the seeds of 930,000 different plant varieties in case of catastrophic events that could potentially destroy the genetic material of the Earth’s plants.
Some call it the “Doomsday Vault,” which might make you imagine a steel safe only unlocked in case of an apocalyptic global event, but this is not necessarily the case. Instead, the vault’s purpose is to preserve seeds in case of smaller, localized destruction, which according to conservationists, happens all the time. Whether it be from war, drought, flood, or other natural disasters, the genetic material of certain plant species can easily be lost for good.
Thankfully, there are 1,700 vaults, also known as gene banks, worldwide that preserve and provide seeds for agricultural research. In 2008, the Global Seed Vault was opened on the island of Spitsbergen in Svalbard as a backup storage bank to these. The remote location was the perfect choice for this site as it is far away from war and natural disasters that may disrupt other vaults. Its goal is to find and house a copy of every unique seed in case of destruction. Many of the seeds housed in Svalbard no longer exist in the outside world.
In 2015, the vault already proved its worth. Some seeds were transported to Syrian scientists working to preserve and duplicate plants from the Middle East that were dying off due to pests and drought. One day the plant species stowed away in Svalbard may provide key plant DNA to combat world challenges or save humanity as we know it.
More Interesting Facts about the Arctic Wonderland of Svalbard:
- While the Global Seed Vault in Svalbard protects the world’s plants, less than 10% of Svalbard’s landmass has its own vegetation. The islands are mostly covered in rock and permafrost, making it impossible for vegetation to grow.
- Seven of Norway’s 47 national parks are located on Svalbard, and 60% of Svalbard’s land is protected. The parks contain mountains, glaciers, and islands, as well as historic whaling stations and burial grounds.
- There are more snowmobiles than there are people in Svalbard. Between the capital city of Longyearbyen and other small settlements, there are very few roads, so residents primarily use snowmobiles to get around.
- The sun does not set for three months and does not rise for three months of the year. From May to July, Svalbard has the “midnight sun” with 24 hours of sunlight. From November to February, the islands remain in total darkness.
- Located at the top of the globe, Svalbard is no stranger to climate change. Its ground is permafrost all year long, but the top layer melts a bit each summer. Climate change has caused the permafrost to melt more during the summer than ever before. Residents must keep their homes on stilts to prevent flooding.
- Svalbard’s second most populous city behind Longyearbyen is Barentsburg, a mining settlement from Soviet times. With 495 residents, the town hasn’t changed in decades. It’s complete with old Soviet worker murals, a bust of Lenin, and Cyrillic letters that spell out “communism is the goal!” in front of a dormitory.
Journey into the frozen wilderness of the Svalbard aboard our New! Arctic Expedition: Untamed Norway & Svalbard Small Ship adventure.