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Plans for “Noah’s Ark” seed vault unveiled

Feb. 9, 2007
Courtesy Burness Communications
and World Science staff

Ar­chi­tec­tur­al plans for a “Dooms­day” seed vault, to pro­tect the world’s seeds for pos­ter­i­ty, have been re­vealed.

The Sval­bard In­ter­na­tion­al Seed Vault, to be lo­cat­ed on the re­mote Arc­tic ar­chi­pel­a­go of Sval­bard, would house in per­pe­tu­i­ty seed sam­ples of eve­ry ma­jor food crop, said of­fi­cials of the Glob­al Crop Di­ver­si­ty Trust, a Rome-based founda­tion de­vot­ed to pro­tecting crop ge­net­ic di­ver­si­ty. 

The de­sign­ers plan the vault as a safe­guard against the slow dev­as­ta­tion of glob­al warm­ing and loss of biodi­ver­si­ty, which is kill­ing off less com­mon strains of food crops and leaving others vul­ner­able.

Courtesy GCDT

The “fail-safe” vault will “gleam like a gem in the mid­night sun,” a state­ment from the founda­tion said. That glint would sig­nal price­less treas­ure with­in. 

The de­sign will ac­com­mo­date even worst-case sce­nar­i­os of glob­al warm­ing in two main ways, ac­cord­ing to the founda­tion. For one, the vault will be high above any pos­si­ble rise in sea lev­el caused by glob­al warm­ing: 130m (142 yards) above cur­rent sea lev­el, en­sur­ing it won’t be flood­ed. This puts it well above a even a 61 me­tre rise that could accompany an un­like­ly to­tal melt­down of Ant­arc­ti­ca. 

But it will also be deep enough to guard against temp­e­ra­ture changes, of­fi­cials said. “Even cli­mate change over the next 200 years will not sig­nif­i­cantly af­fect” the tem­per­a­ture in the fro­zen ground, said proj­ect man­ag­er Mag­nus Bre­deli Tveiten of Stats­bygg, the Nor­we­gian go­vernment’s Di­rec­to­rate of Pub­lic Con­struc­tion and Prop­er­ty. 

A 120-me­tre en­try tun­nel will pen­e­trate through the ground, open­ing to two large cham­bers ca­pa­ble of hold­ing three mil­lion seed sam­ples, the de­sign­ers said. 

Con­struc­tion is slat­ed to beg­in in March 2007 and to be com­plet­ed in Sep­tem­ber 2007. The vault is to open in late win­ter 2008. Of­fi­cials of the Trust said they’re fi­na­liz­ing an agree­ment with the Roy­al Min­is­try of Ag­ri­cul­ture and Food of Nor­way and the Nor­dic Gene Bank to pro­vide for the long-term fund­ing, man­age­ment and op­er­a­tion.


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Architectural plans for a “Doomsday” seed vault, to protect the world’s seeds for posterity, have been revealed. The Svalbard Inter national Seed Vault, to be located on the remote Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, would house in perpetuity seed samples of every major food crop, said officials of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, a Rome-based foundation devoted to protecting collections of crop genetic diversity. The designers intend the vault as a safeguard against the slow devastation of global warming and loss of biodiversity, which are killing off strains of food crops one by one. The vault is part of a comprehensive global strategy being implemented by the Global Crop Diversity Trust, a foundation devoted to protecting collections of crop genetic diversity. Designers said the entrance to the “fail-safe” seed vault will “gleam like a gem in the midnight sun,” a statement from the foundation said. That glint would signal a priceless treasure within: seeds from nearly every food crop of every country. The design will accommodate even worst-case scenarios of global warming in two main Ways, according to the foundation. For one, the vault will be located high above any possible rise in sea level caused by global warming: the vault will be located some 130 metres above current sea level, ensuring that it will not be flooded. This puts it well above a seven metre rise that would accompany the melting of Greenland’s ice sheet, or even a 61 metre rise that could accompany an unlikely total meltdown of Antarctica. “Even climate change over the next 200 years will not significantly affect the permafrost temperature,” said project manager Magnus Bredeli Tveiten, with Statsbygg, the Norwegian government’s Directorate of Public Construction and Property. A 120-metre entry tunnel will penetrate through the frozen ground, opening to two large chambers capable of holding three million seed samples, the designers said. Construction is slated to begin in March 2007 and to be completed in September 2007. The vault is to open in late winter 2008. The Trust is finalizing an agreement with the Royal Ministry of Agriculture and Food of Norway and the Nordic Gene Bank to provide for the long-term funding, management and operation, the officials said.