The Norwegian region of Svalbard is home to the research town of Longyearbyen, polar bears and a vault that is slowly being filled with seeds from around the world.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault (also known as the doomsday vault) has been in operation for ten years and serves as a way for countries to backup their agriculture by depositing seeds into the vault.

To date 1 059 646 unique seeds have been deposited in the vault.

The idea is that in the event of massive climate change or nuclear war countries will be able to make withdrawals from the vault to restart their agriculture.

The vault itself is buried in a mountain surrounded by permafrost which is meant to protect the seeds from the elements. However, in 2017 disaster struck when permafrost began to melt. Luckily the vaults containing the seeds were not flooded but it was cause for concern.

So on this, the tenth anniversary of the world’s botany backup facility Norway is putting €10 million into upgrading the facility.

“The upgrades, which we hope to begin presently, will ensure that the Svalbard Global Seed Vault can continue to offer the world’s gene banks a secure storage space in the future,” Norwegian agriculture and food minister Jon Georg Dale said in a statement.

The upgrades include the construction of a new concrete access tunnel and a service building to house emergency power, refrigeration units and other electrical equipment which emits heat through the tunnels down to the vault.

While it might seem trivial to backup our agriculture, the Svarlbard Global Seed Vault had its first withdrawal just a few years ago in 2015.

The ICARDA International Research Center in Aleppo, Syria was damaged during the nation’s civil war and seeds that were stored in the facility were lost. The research center has since redeposited the seeds it withdrew.

The video below from Veritasium takes a look inside this giant freezer and gives you a bit of perspective as to how big and important this project is.

[Image – CC BY 2.0 Christopher Michel]