The Global Crop Diversity Trust Seed Vault opens at Svalbard Norway, just a week after a major quake nearby.

Today the Global Crop Diversity Trust seed vault at Svalbard will be inaugurated by Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg at Longyearbyen, home to a small community of scientists and coal miners. The group of islands is the northernmost place in the world with regular commercial air service..

This comes just under a week since the Svalbard earthquake measuring 6.2 on the Richter Scale, having its epicenter at Storfjorden, about 140 kilometers (84 miles) southeast of Longyearbyen. This has been the strongest earthquake in Norway in modern times. It was felt strongly at Longyearbyen the site of the seed vault. It somehow seems an irony that the seed vault, an answer to a call from the international community to provide the best possible assurance of safety for the world’s crop diversity, should be located within range of a seismically active area.

Crop seeds from the entire world will be put into frozen storage for the future – 364 feet below the mountainside permafrost. The maintenance of the facility and collection of the specimen seeds will be overseen by the the Global Crop Diversity Trust. It has a wonderful website with high quality images of the facility and site drawings as well as a Pdf of the Feasibility Study and information about the structure.

The seed vault comes in answer to a call from the international community to provide the best possible assurance of safety for the world’s crop diversity.

The Feasibility Study available to be downloaded as a Pdf, looked into the storage conditions required and reported that:

“Seeds stored at -18C, will (depending on the species) remain viable for many years. Dried to the proper moisture content and packaged properly, it is estimated that seed of most major food crops can be successfully stored at -18C for hundreds of years, and seed of many crops, including some of the major grains, can be stored for thousands of years. The Nordic Gene Bank has found no meaningful decline in viability of seeds stored in permafrost conditions at Svalbard in the 18 th year of a 100-year experiment.”

Securing duplicates of unique seed varieties of the planets most important crops and of all collections in a global facility provides an insurance policy for the world’s food supply. Consideration was given to geotechnical conditions, climatic conditions and construction staging issues, among others, before a final determination was made for the site.

The feasibility study also looked at climate and geology in its deliberations.

“An underground facility in Svalbard could take advantage of permafrost conditions (permanent, below zero Celsius temperatures) and utilize the considerably colder winter temperatures combined with the insulating qualities of a chamber excavated out of sandstone inside a mountain, to provide storage conditions that meet the highest international standards for long-term conservation, -18C, at a low cost and with relatively little dependence on mechanical technologies. There is no volcanic or significant seismic activity. Radiation, low even in the coal mines, should not be a factor in sandstone, the preferred option. Potential sites would not be affected by a rise in sea levels, should this occur. A suitably constructed facility would be far more secure and permanent than any existing genebank.”

It is hoped that the investigations were rigorous and that the stability of the location will ensure the storage in perpetuity of such important seed stocks. For those interested in further detail the Global Crop Diversity Trust website is highly recommended. Also for those interested in the seismicity and present day tectonics of the Svalbart region There is an interesting article in the Geophysical Journal International about the seimic situation in the region.

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~ by abstraktbiblos on Tuesday, 26 February, 2008.

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