1 Million Crops in Svalbard

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault now holds more than 1 million species of seeds, and is set to implement upgrades that will better defend the facility against climate change threats.

| December 2018/January 2019

  • The entrance to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, home to more than 1 million unique crop seeds, glows at night.
    Photo by Wikimedia Commons/Dag Terje Filip Endresen

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault recently achieved a noteworthy milestone: It now houses more than 1 million unique food crops. Also known as the “Doomsday Vault,” this seed storage space was developed to safeguard the world’s most diverse collection of seeds in case of catastrophe. The vault is buried beneath a mountain in a Norwegian archipelago east of Greenland, where yearlong freezing temperatures help keep the seeds viable. Since opening its doors 10 years ago, Svalbard has accepted thousands of seed donations from all over the globe. A recent contribution of approximately 70,000 crops puts the vault contents at more than 1 million species, including a number of unique rice varieties and black-eyed peas.

Hitting the 1 million mark isn’t the only change in store for Svalbard; the vault is also getting a makeover. An estimated $13 million will finance extensive upgrades that include a service building for emergency power, extra refrigerating units and other electrical equipment, better waterproofing and reinforcements in the walls, and a new concrete access tunnel. If recent weather patterns are any indication, these upgrades are vital for the vault’s viability. Last year, the entrance was flooded during a bout of unseasonably warm weather. While the seed collection wasn’t harmed by the water, the incident shed light on the vulnerabilities of the current design. Svalbard’s designers hope the planned improvements will succeed in keeping the world’s most extensive seed collection safe indefinitely.

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