Norway has formally started the establishment of a global seed bank, an underground vault on Spitsbergen, a Norwegian island in the Svalbard archipelago in the Arctic Ocean.
Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, accompanied by government leaders from the other Nordic countries, attended a groundbreaking ceremony Monday.
The new Svalbard Global Seed Vault will serve as a repository for crucial seeds in the event of a global catastrophe, said Norway's agriculture minister, Terje Riis-Johansen.
The Svalbard vault will store as many as 3 million different varieties of seeds of the world. Its purpose is to ensure the survival of crop diversity in the event of plant epidemics, nuclear war, natural disasters or climate change, and to offer the world a chance to restart growth of food crops that may have been wiped out.
The Svalbard Archipelago, 300 miles north of the mainland, was selected because it is located far from many threats and has a consistently cold climate. Those factors will help protect the seeds and safeguard their genetic makeup.
The vault will have thick concrete walls, and even if all cooling systems fail, the temperature in the frozen mountain will never rise above freezing due to permafrost. The seeds, packaged in foil, would be stored at such cold temperatures that they could last hundreds, even thousands, of years, according to the independent Global Crop Diversity Trust. The trust, founded in 2004, has also worked on the project and will help run the vault.
The Norwegian government has contributed 30 million kroner (4.8 million U.S. dollars) for the construction of the vault. The seed bank will open and start accepting seeds from around the world in September 2007.