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Svalbard Global Seed Vault

The Seed Vault safeguards duplicates of 1,165,041 seed varieties from almost every country in the world, with room for millions more. It's purpose is to backup genebank collections to secure the foundation of our future food supply. 

Why do we need a global seed vault?

Worldwide, more than 1,700 genebanks hold collections of food crops for safekeeping, yet many of these are vulnerable, exposed not only to natural catastrophes and war, but also to avoidable disasters, such as lack of funding or poor management. Something as mundane as a poorly functioning freezer can ruin an entire collection. And the loss of a crop variety is as irreversible as the extinction of a dinosaur, animal or any form of life. The Seed Vault stores duplicates (backups) of seed samples from the world’s crop collections as a safeguard against such catastrophic loss.

Why crop diversity matters

How does it work?

The Seed Vault is the ultimate insurance policy for the world’s food supply, securing millions of seeds representing every important crop variety available in the world today and offering options for future generations to overcome the challenges of climate change and population growth.

A temperature of −18 °C is required for optimal storage of the seeds. Permafrost and thick rock ensure that the seed samples will remain frozen even without power. The seeds are sealed in custom-made three-ply foil packages, which are sealed inside boxes and stored on shelves inside the Seed Vault. The low temperature and moisture levels inside the Seed Vault ensure low metabolic activity, keeping the seeds viable for long periods of time.

Find out what other projects the Crop Trust is involved in

 

Why Svalbard?

Exterior view of Svalbard Global Seed Vault in sunlight
Entrance to Svalbard Global Seed Vault
Icy landscape and mountains of Svalbard
Aerial view of Svalbard Global Seed Vault
Icy Svalbard coastline

01

Svalbard is the farthest north a person can fly on a scheduled flight, offering a remote location that is nevertheless accessible.

Exterior view of Svalbard Global Seed Vault in sunlight

02

While the entrance may be visible, the Seed Vault itself is more than 100 meters into the mountain.

Entrance to Svalbard Global Seed Vault

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The area is geologically stable and humidity levels are low.

Icy landscape and mountains of Svalbard

04

The Seed Vault is well above sea level, protected from ocean flooding according to worst-case scenario sea-level rises.

Aerial view of Svalbard Global Seed Vault

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The permafrost offers the Seed Vault natural freezing, providing a cost effective and fail-safe method to conserve seeds.

Icy Svalbard coastline

The storage

Currently, the Seed Vault holds more than 1.1 million seed varieties, originating from almost every country in the world. These range 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 Seed Vault already holds the most diverse collection of food crop seeds in the world.

The objective of the Seed 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.

For a complete overview of the samples stored in the Seed Vault,

Visit NordGen’s public online database

4.5M

Variety capacity

1,165,041

Samples in the Seed Vault

-18ºC

Temperature required

Who can take the seeds out?

The seed boxes are stored under “black-box conditions,” meaning the depositors are the only ones who can withdraw their own seeds. When seeds are deposited in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, their legal ownership is not transferred. This means that a depositor who chooses to store seeds in the Seed Vault is still the owner of the seeds and the only one who can withdraw them from the Seed Vault.

See where the Crop Trust is active around the world

FAQs

What is the Svalbard Global Seed Vault?

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault provides insurance against both incremental and catastrophic loss of crop diversity held in traditional genebanks around the world. The Seed Vault offers long-term protection for one of the most important natural resources onearth.

What groups are involved in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault?

The Seed Vault is owned and administered by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food on behalf of the Kingdom of Norway and is established as a service to the world community. The Global Crop Diversity Trust provides support for the ongoing operations of the Seed Vault, as well as funding for the preparation and shipment of seeds from developing countries to the facility. The Nordic Genetic Resources Center (NordGen) operates the facility and maintains a public online databaseof samples stored in the seed vault. An International Advisory Council oversees the management and operations of the Seed Vault.

Why Svalbard?

Svalbard was chosen for several reasons. Its cold climate and permafrost make the area a perfect location for underground cold storage. The surrounding sandstone is stable for building and is low in radiation. In terms of security, Svalbard scores high marks compared to the locations of many other genebanks in the world. The infrastructure is good, with daily flights and a reliable source of energy from local coal supplies. The vault is located an extraordinary 120 meters (393.7 feet) into the rock, ensuring that the vault rooms will remain naturally frozen even in the event of failure of the mechanical cooling system and rising external air temperatures due to climate change.

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