14.03.2018 |

Arctic seed vault turns ten, now storing over 1 million seed samples

Seed Vault
Svalbard Global Seed Vault (Photo: Matthias Heyde,,

The seed samples stored in the Arctic seed vault have surpassed the 1 million mark as the world’s largest seed collection celebrates its tenth anniversary. On February 26, Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway received over 76,000 new seed samples for long-term storage, bringing the total number of unique crop varieties deposited in the last decade up to 1,059,646 samples. The large concrete construction is hosted deep inside a mountain on a remote island in the Svalbard archipelago, halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole. “It is simply impressive that 1 million seed samples from all over the world have now found their way to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault,” Norway’s Minister of Agriculture and Food, Jon Georg Dale, said in a statement. “It confirms the important role of the seed vault as a worldwide insurance for food supply for future generations and an ever-growing population.”

On the occasion of the tenth anniversary, representatives from 23 international gene banks gathered in Longyearbyen at the seed vault and brought with them 179 boxes with 76,330 new crop varieties. New seed samples were deposited from The World Vegetable Center in Taiwan, the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) in Lebanon and Morocco as well as the International Potato Center in Peru, just to name a few seed banks. Among the crops deposited were duplicate seeds of vital staples like rice, wheat and maize. Other important crops stored in the vault were black-eyed pea (cowpea), a major protein source in Africa and South Asia, along with samples of sorghum, pearl millet and pigeon pea. The lesser-known crops that were safely stored in the vault included Bambara groundnut, which is being developed as a drought tolerant crop in parts of Africa, and the so-called Estonian onion potato, as well a varieties of beans unique to the eastern European country.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault first opened its doors on February 26, 2008 as a backup facility for the world’s seed banks. It is owned by the Norwegian Government and operated under a three-party agreement between the Norwegian Government, NordGen and the Crop Trust. The vault has a full capacity of 4.5 million different seed types. While the total number of unique crop varieties deposited over the last 10 years is 1,059,646, there are currently only 967,216 crop varieties in the vault. This is due to the fact that in 2015 and 2017, ICARDA requested some of its deposits of wheat, lentil, chickpea and other crops because its own seed bank in Syria became unable to operate due to civil conflict. Thanks to the seeds deposited in the seed storage facility, ICARDA was able to re-establish its research and conservation work at its sites in Lebanon and Morocco and has since then managed to duplicate and return thousands of these varieties to Svalbard.

“The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is an iconic reminder of the remarkable conservation effort that is taking place every day, around the world and around the clock – an effort to conserve the seeds of our food crops,” said Marie Haga, Executive Director of the Crop Trust. “Safeguarding such a huge range of seeds means scientists will have the best chance of developing nutritious and climate-resilient crops that can ensure future generations don’t just survive, but thrive,” she added. However, the seed vault also needs conservation efforts: In 2017, melting permafrost caused by unusually warm temperatures risked flooding the vault. Although the water did not reach the frozen chambers deep within where the seeds are stored, reinforcements are underway to prepare the construction for the consequences of climate change. Norway has recently announced it will spend 100 million Norwegian Crowns ($12.7 million) to upgrade the doomsday seed vault. The project includes the construction of a new, concrete-built access tunnel to make sure the seed vault remains dry. (ab)

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