On June 19, 2006, on the remote island of Spitsbergen halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole, the prime ministers of Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Iceland lay the ceremonial first stone of the Global Seed Vault. The vault, which now has the capacity to hold 2.25 billion seeds, is intended to “provide insurance against both incremental and catastrophic loss of crop diversity.”
Managed jointly by the Global Crop Diversity Trust (the Crop Trust), the Nordic Genetic Resource Center (NordGen), and the Norwegian government, the Seed Vault grew out of several different efforts to preserve specimens of the world’s plants. Its location, deep within a high mountain on an island covered by permafrost, is ideal for cold storage and will protect the seeds even in the event of a major rise in sea levels. The enormous vault, where seeds can be stored in such a way that they remain viable for decades or even centuries, opened in 2008.
According to the Crop Trust, the seed vault is meant to preserve crop diversity and contribute to the global struggle to end hunger. As rising temperatures and other aspects of climate change threaten the Earth’s plants, there is risk of not only losing species but also becoming overly reliant on those that remain, making humanity more vulnerable and increasing food insecurity. Scientists also strive to create newer, more resilient varieties of crops that already exist, and the seed bank functions as a reserve from which they can draw for experimental purposes.