Global Seed Bank Receives Its One-Millionth Variety

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway. Matthias Heyde/SGSV

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault in the Arctic, also known as the “doomsday vault,” has added its one millionth seed variety. Built in Norway in 2008, the vault is meant to protect crop diversity and safeguard global food supplies in case of a catastrophe, from natural disasters and climate change to war.

The vault received more than 60,000 new seed varieties this week from 35 different groups, including regional seedbanks and agricultural departments in Thailand, the United States, and Ireland; universities in Costa Rica, Ethiopia, and Lebanon; the Cherokee Nation, the first U.S.-based tribe to make a deposit; and the estate of Britain’s Prince Charles, among others, according to The Verge. The vault now contains more than 1,050,000 seed varieties, from staple crops like maize, wheat, and rice to vegetables, herbs, and wildflowers.

The facility has the capacity to store 4.5 million crop varieties from around the world. Each variety packet contains an average 500 seeds, for a total capacity of 2.5 billion seeds.

Built into the side of a mountain and surrounded by permafrost on a Norwegian island 600 miles from the North Pole, the vault is designed to stay cold even if the power fails. In 2017, however, water from thawing permafrost leaked into the vault’s access tunnel; no seeds were damaged. The Norwegian government recently completed a $21.7 million project to reinforce the facility’s waterproof doorways and walls and improve its cooling system.

“The seed vault is the backup in the global system of conservation to secure food security on Earth,” Stefan Schmitz, executive director of the Crop Trust, the Bonn-based organization which manages the vault, told Reuters. “We need to preserve this biodiversity, this crop diversity, to provide healthy diets and nutritious foods, and for providing farmers, especially smallholders, with sustainable livelihoods so that they can adapt to new conditions.”

The new varieties arrived at the seed vault on February 25.

The new varieties arrived at the seed vault on February 25. NordGen