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Where to find the vault that is going to save humankind
Posted on 17/02/2019


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Doomsday is near, and this place might be our only chance of surviving.

A secret place at the heart of the Norwegian wilderness

A secret place at the heart of the Norwegian wilderness
© Pavel Cheiko/123RF

On the remote Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, only 810 miles from the North Pole, you can find one of the Scandinavian country's most intriguing sights. At the heart of the snow-covered, inhospitable wilderness, out of a sandstone mountain emerges the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Officially opened in 2008, this mysterious, austere construction is conservationist Cary Fowler's pet project.

Funded by governments worldwide and prominent organizations such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the vault clearly is of great importance to the international community. But why?

What's inside?

What's inside?
© hopsalka/123RF

The simple answer is: plant seeds. A whole bunch of them. The vault was created in order to store as many seeds as possible in a place as safe as possible. The facility holds more than a million samples, each containing hundreds of seeds, courtesy of gene banks from all over the world.

The samples collected are of food crop seeds, including 32 varieties of potatoes from Ireland and numerous varieties of chili peppers from the US. It might sound boring, a vault full of seeds. But it's much more interesting than it seems.

For when doomsday comes

For when doomsday comes
© Razvan Ionut Dragomirescu/123RF

Why do we need to safeguard seeds, you wonder? Firstly, for doomsday. Whether it is a meteorite, a nuclear war, or a gigantic tsunami that takes us all out, there's a good chance that all the food crops in the world are going to disappear. And in case there are some survivors, there needs to be a way for them to start from scratch. They will need to somehow find their way to Norway and to the vault, where thousands of fruit, vegetable, and spice seeds will have been left intact, waiting to be turned into food supplies in a post-apocalyptic world.

By protecting these essential agricultural genes, the vault is taking a small step toward humankind's survival in case of a global catastrophe by providing the opportunity to resuscitate the world's flora.

For when less dramatic events occur

For when less dramatic events occur
© stormchaser/123RF

Hopefully, this doomsday scenario is not impending. In the meantime, the vault serves other, less dramatic purposes. On a day to day basis, the vault is used as a storage facility in which a diverse pool of gene duplicates is safely kept. This is merely a safety net against the potential loss of invaluable samples by other gene banks across the world, due to mismanagement, equipment failures, natural disasters, or wars.

In 2015, the Syrian war has notably led to the first withdrawal of seeds in the history of the vault. Samples of wheat, barley, and grasses suited to dry regions were withdrawn from the facility to replace the seeds of Aleppo's gene bank, destroyed in the war.

The vault is therefore a backup for precious seed samples, a way to prevent the irreversible loss of agricultural biodiversity. This is not as impressive as single-handedly saving humankind, but it's still a noble mission.

The surrounding area steals the vault's thunder

The surrounding area steals the vault's thunder
© Witold Kaszkin/123RF

Unfortunately, you cannot explore the vault, which is closed to visitors to avoid malevolent tampering or damage caused by clumsiness. But you can have a look around the surrounding region, which is absolutely jaw-dropping.

The Svalbard archipelago is just endless horizons of pristine grasslands and snow-capped, iridescent peaks. Filled with unique fauna, including polar bears, reindeer, and a plethora of magnificent birds, Svalbard is serious about protecting its majestic wildlife and does its best to preserve the gorgeous wilderness in which these animals thrive. The archipelago is also home to multiple national parks, with untouched glaciers, mountains, and fjords.

Enjoy the beauty while it's still there, and when doomsday finally arrives, hopefully you won't be too far from the vault.

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