February 25, 2014
A Noah’s Ark For The World’s Food
Noah saved the world’s animals from great floods, it is said, on his giant Ark. But what to do about food after the floods? Noah’s contribution was fine if you really like meat, but how about crops? The Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway houses millions of seeds which could be used to restart crops should a new great flood or any other disaster take hold of the earth.
It is a broader and more concentrated, centralized version of other gene banks, which exist across the globe. Gene banks intend to protect vital genetic material from plants and animals. Svalbard does it bigger and better.
One of Svalbard’s functions is to provide backup samples, or ‘copies’ of seeds and other genetic material held elsewhere in the world. Localized disasters, wars, or mismanagement can lead to other areas being deprived of their samples, and Svalbard can replace them. Ultimately, though, it would be the main center for relief in the event of a global catastrophe, because of its scale, location and level of protection.
The vault was created out of solid, icy rock, 600 miles from the North Pole. It could keep seeds frozen for 200 years, even if the resources usually needed to do so failed due to disaster, be it climate change or nuclear war, because the permafrost would keep temperatures at around -4 Celsius. With the technology fully functioning, barley can survive 2,000 years, wheat 1,700 and sorghum almost 20,000 years, according to Reuters, who also say that “African and Asian staples such as rice, maize, wheat, cowpea and sorghum to European and South American varieties of eggplant, lettuce, barley and potato” are all kept at the facility.
There are three vault rooms, which are reached via a 100-meter long steel tube tunneled into the rock. Only the entrance is visible from outside, and that is made from steel, too, and, incidentally, looks like the Jawas’ sandcrawlers in Star Wars. The environment is entirely different to that of the Sand People on Tatooine though, and the icy surroundings look very bleak. The location was chosen as it stands the most chance of surviving disasters such as rising sea levels.
The vaults can hold up to two billion seeds. It would be enough to help much of the world’s population to restart crop production in the event of a crisis, and, as such, is part of a global cooperation project. Specific gratitude should go, though, to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which contributed greatly, and to the Norwegian government who built the facility with their own money. The vaults work like those at a private bank, whereby the Norwegian government owns the facility as a bank would, but different seed owners are in charge of their own seed deposits and deposit boxes.
The Global Crop Diversity Trust is funding the operations of the vault, and their Cary Fowler told Reuters: “…we are going to put an end to extinction with this vault because we are going to have a safety backup, a Plan B.”
Image Credit: Thinkstock