Imagine: seeds from every one of the world's 1.5 million agricultural plants, stored in a concrete-lined, sub-zero, air-locked, guarded vault inside a mountain north of the Arctic Circle. Sounds like science fiction, right?
It's actually just the latest attempt by the Food and Agricultural Organization's Global Crop Diversity Trust to preserve biodiversity and to provide a "bank" of plant DNA from which scientists can create new varieties to survive changing climates. "Current crops are adapted to the current climate. Start changing that and you change everything," Cary Fowler of the Global Crop Diversity Trust told Reuters. "Plant breeders will have to be designing totally new varieties."
Fowler also said that the project will be especially keen to preserve hierloom or vintage plants because "that is where you find the largest genetic diversity ... and diversity is protection."
The vault—which should be finished in 2008—will be located 590 feet deep into a mountain on the Svalbard archipelago, 262 feet above sea level even if all polar ice were to melt. It will be protected by three-feet thick concrete lining, fencing, guards, motion detectors and two steel air-lock doors.
Part of the reason for the intense security is that the Svalbard seed inventory is regarded as a worst-case-scenario fail-safe. As Fowler put it: "Svalbard is a safety backup—and we hope we never have to use it."