Banking on Seeds

It’s a little like people locking treasures in a safe. In this case, the treasures are seeds. Around the world, more than 1,700 banks store food crops. Yet, many of these are at risk. Natural disasters can happen. War can break out. Something as simple as a broken freezer can ruin a whole collection of food crops.

Not at Svalbard. The vault is inside a mountain. It is underground and packed in ice. So, if the air system failed, the seeds would still stay cold.

Shelves in each vault hold hundreds of boxes containing seed packets.

vault entrance

control room

security doors



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 crates, each labeled by country.


Crates are shipped to the seed vault and stored on shelves. Three to four times a year, the vault is opened and new seed samples are brought inside.


The vault is designed to store up to 4.5 million seed samples—that’s a total of 2.25 billion seeds. So far, only one room is being used. It holds about 1,059,646 kinds of seeds.

Making a Deposit

The vault is owned by the Kingdom of Norway. A company keeps the vault running. It sets up seed shipments from other companies and countries.

The vault holds the widest variety of food crop seeds in the world. Some countries have deposited more than 10,000 varieties of seeds.

The seed vault is located within the Arctic Circle.