Svalbard is an ideal location for a long-term seed storage facility, for several reasons.
The technical conditions at the site are virtually perfect. The location inside a mountain increases security and provides unparalleled insulation properties. The area is geologically stable, humidity levels are low, and there is no measurable radiation inside the mountain. The Vault is placed well above sea level (130 meters/430 ft), far above the point of any projected sea level rise.
The arctic permafrost offers natural freezing. The naturally cold conditions reduce the reliance on mechanical refrigeration to freeze and conserve the seeds. Additional mechanical cooling down to -18° Celsius, the international standard for long-term conservation of seeds, is easily accomplished by drawing in cold air during the winter. Even in the event of mechanical failure, the permafrost and thick rock ensure that the seed samples will remain frozen.
Remote by any standards, Svalbard’s airport is in fact the northernmost point in the world to be serviced by scheduled flights – usually one a day. Its remoteness enhances the security of the facility, yet local infrastructure in the nearby small Norwegian settlement of Longyearbyen is excellent. The Vault is thus accessible, and seeds can easily be transported to and retrieved from Svalbard.
Svalbard enjoys a politically stable situation, and the local government is highly competent and helpful. Military activity is prohibited in the region under the terms of the Treaty of Svalbard of 1920.
Finally, Norway is a country unusually global in its outlook, and is a committed player in the international arena on the issue of crop diversity. It is a willing host that enjoys the trust of all nations to undertake this responsibility.
In 2003, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research Centers (CGIAR), approached the Government of Norway with a request to examine the feasibility of establishing an international seedbank in the permafrost of Svalbard. Norway accepted the request, and the government constituted an international committee to look into the matter.
The Vault was unanimously welcomed at the United Nations when proposed by Norway, and the Norwegian government agreed to oversee and fund the $9 million construction of the Seed Vault as a service to the world.