Banking on Seeds
The vault is a little like when people put their valuables in a locked safe to protect them. In this case, the valuables are seeds.
Worldwide, more than 1,700 banks hold collections of food crops for safekeeping. Yet, not all these banks are safe. They could be affected by natural disasters or war. They could suffer from lack of funding, poor management, or even lack of power. Something as simple as a broken freezer can ruin an entire collection.
Not at Svalbard. No other seed bank protects its seeds as well as this place. Partly that’s because of the way it was constructed. The vault is inside a mountain. Even if the air system were to fail, the seeds would stay cold because the vault is underground. It’s packed in rock and ice. The rock that makes up the mountain is stable. The vault is well above sea level, so there is less danger from flooding.
Dozens of shelves in each vault hold hundreds of boxes containing seed packets.
Here's how it works:
Seeds used to be stored in glass tubes. Now they are put in foil packages that keep out moisture and heat. Each sample contains about 500 seeds.
Seed packets are stored in labeled crates, each coded to its country of origin.
Crates are shipped to the seed vault and stored on shelves. Three to four times a year, the vault is opened and new seeds are added.
The vault is designed to store up to 4.5 million seed samples—that’s a total of 2.25 billion seeds. So far, the vault holds more than one million kinds of seeds.
Making a Deposit
The vault is owned by the Kingdom of Norway. A group called the Global Crop Diversity Trust keeps the vault running. It sets up seed shipments from other companies and countries.
Currently, this vault holds the most diverse collection of food crop seeds in the world. Some countries like Canada and India have deposited more than 10,000 different types of seeds. Others, such as the Republic of the Congo, have put in fewer than 100 types of seeds.