The Vault holds more than 820,000 samples, originating from almost every country in the world. Ranging from unique varieties of major African and Asian food staples such as maize, rice, wheat, cowpea, and sorghum to European and South American varieties of eggplant, lettuce, barley, and potato. In fact, the Vault already holds the most diverse collection of food crop seeds in the world.
The focus of the Vault is to safeguard as much of the world’s unique crop genetic material as possible, while also avoiding unnecessary duplication. It will take some years to assemble because some genebanks need to multiply stocks of seed first, and other seeds need regenerating before they can be shipped to Svalbard. Finally, most genebanks lack the facilities and manpower to multiply all their seed stocks instantly. The Trust is currently supporting more than 100 institutes worldwide to regenerate unique accessions and deposit safety duplicates in the Vault.
For a complete overview of the samples stored in the Vault, please visit NordGen’s public on-line database.
Keeping the seeds cold The vault consists of three highly secure rooms sitting at the end of a 125 metre tunnel inside the mountain.
The seeds are stored and sealed in custom made three-ply foil packages. The packages are sealed inside boxes and stored on shelves inside the vault. The low temperature and moisture levels inside the Vault ensure low metabolic activity, keeping the seeds viable for long periods of time.
Keeping the seeds safe
The world has trusted the Vault with its seeds, and all possible measures to keep the seeds safe in the Vault have been taken. Anyone seeking access to the seeds themselves has to pass through four locked doors: the heavy steel entrance doors, a second door approximately 115 metres down the tunnel and finally the two doors to the Vault rooms. Keys are coded to allow access to different levels of the facility. No single key unlocks all of the doors.
The building has been designed to withstand both natural and man-made dangers (even though a global seed storage facility is an extremely unlikely target). Its back wall, for instance, is concave, in order to repel and rebound shockwaves from an explosion away from the seeds. The remote location, as well as the rugged structure, provides unparalleled security for the world’s agricultural heritage. Apart from the motion detectors and CCTV devices with which the Vault is equipped, another unusual layer of security could be said to be provided by the polar bears which prowl the area. Polar bears actually outnumber people on Svalbard!