Storing seeds, bank, Svalbard
Photo courtesy Crop Trust

About 800 miles from the North Pole on the icy and sparsely populated island of Svalbard, sits a blue-glowing concrete and mirrored tunnel jutting from a glacier-encrusted sandstone mountain that overlooks an inky fjord. It is out of place among the snow and ice. But it has a very important function to the future of mankind. It’s the most secure of all the world’s seed banks.

Seed Bank

Like something out of a Bond movie, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault was built to be disaster-proof. Nearly 600 feet up the mountain in case of sea-level rise, earthquake and nuclear bomb resistant, and with a natural insulation of permafrost to ensure the contents are kept frozen for centuries to come. Inside the thick walls contains nearly one million samples of 500 seeds each. They are sealed in an airtight aluminum bags and kept in a sub-zero environment. They’re frozen in time against drought, pestilence, war, disease, and the slow-moving effects of climate change.

Banks Around the World

Svalbard is not the only place in the world to take on such a fatalistic project. There are nearly 1,500 seed banks throughout the world. The total stored seeds comprising of around six billion seeds. This is only but a small fraction of the world’s biodiversity. The largest facility is the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership (MSBP). It is located on the grounds of the Wakehurst Place in West Sussex, near London. Stored in a multi-level, nuclear bomb-proof underground vault, the facility currently boasts in its collection just over 13 percent of the world’s plant species. Stored inside are 2.2 billion seeds from around 37,600 species, representing 5,800 genera and 330 families.

According to MSBP: “The collections are immediately moved to a dry room until processing can be conducted where the seeds are cleaned of debris and other plant material, X-rayed, counted, and banked at -20˚C. Seeds are banked in hermetically sealed glass containers along with Silica gel packets impregnated with indicator compounds that change color if moisture seeps into the collection. Seeds are tested for viability with a germination test shortly after banking and then at regular 10 year intervals.”

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