In the far off reaches of the world — on a small frozen block of an island not far from the North Pole and in a place where more often than not the only sounds to be heard are the beating of one’s heart — work has begun on what many are calling the “Apocalypse Vault:” A mammoth depository that will ultimately house nearly 3 million different types of seeds ranging from carrots to water melons to soy beans to tofu. Everything we’d ever want to plant in case the world as we know it comes to an end.
According to an article in the 6 March edition of the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera (www.corrieredellasera.it) the seed vault should be ready by winter 2008 and is being built to safeguard the world’s food supply against nuclear war, climate change, terrorism, rising sea levels, earthquakes and the ensuing collapse of electricity supplies.
More than 100 countries have backed the vault, which will store seeds, packaged in foil, at sub-zero temperatures. According to a report on BBC News Online (www.news.bbc.co.uk), Prime Ministers from five nations helped lay the cornerstone in a formal ceremony attended by Premiers from Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Iceland — who all served witness of the project which is being initiated near the town of Longyearbyen, in Norway’s remote Svalbard Islands, roughly 620 miles from the North Pole. The designated island garnering so much of the world’s attention is named Spitzbergan.
So why here — on this tiny speck of an island and so far away from prying eyes?
Safety for one thing and climate for another.
The vault is being constructed deep inside a sandstone mountain lined with permafrost. Newscientist.com (www.newscientist.com) reports that at temperatures of minus 18C (minus 0.4F), the seeds could last hundreds, even thousands, of years. And even if all cooling systems failed — say experts — the temperature in the frozen mountain would never rise above freezing due to the permafrost on the mountainside.
O-k…so maybe bio-terrorists will wear heavy sweaters, long underwear and ski caps. Then what?
Checkbiotech.org (www.checkbiotech.org) reports that the vault will have meter-thick walls of reinforced concrete and will be protected behind two airlocks and high-security blast-proof doors. Fenced in and guarded, with steel airlock doors and motion detectors. Backers to the project say the vault will be the most secure building of its type in the world.
And just in case all that isn’t enough, the island is populated by polar bears who don’t take kindly to strangers.
The doomsday vault has a price tag of about 3 million dollars and is the culmination of nearly 30 years of planning amid recognition of the imposing threats to global plant genetic resources.
Yet with all the emphasis being placed on seceurity and locaiton, when completed the vault will be “passiviely manned.” And why not? Who is goingto try and come all the way out here in the constant dead of winter?
The Global Crop Diversity Trust (www.croptrust.org) — founded in 2004 — will help run the vault, which is planned to open and start accepting seeds from around the world in September 2007. What is being touted as the “Fort Knox” for the world’s crops will start by taking seeds from a network of existing seed banks run in the Philippines, Mexico, Syria, Nigeria and elsewhere by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, which is part-funded by the World Bank.
According to Bioversityinternational.org (www.bioversityinternational.org) The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Commission on Genetic Resources has warmly welcomed the Norwegian initiative and many countries. The scheme won UN approval at a meeting of the Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome conducted in October 2006.
A feasibility study said the facility “…would essentially be built to last forever.“