The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, which holds around 900,000 seed samples in case of a doomsday scenario, is getting a £9 million refurbishment.
Norway’s government announced the start-up grant would contribute to the construction of a new concrete access tunnel, and a service building for emergency power and refrigerating units.
The seed vault, which turns ten years old this month, is built into a mountain at Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago midway between the mainland and the North Pole.
It holds duplicates of seeds stored in seed banks across the world in case of natural or man-made disasters. The surrounding permafrost and thick rock means the refrigerated seed samples should stay frozen even if the power fails.
It’s far above sea level, so should be safe from sea levels rising, and being in a geologically stable area it is protected from earthquakes. The entrance is visible on the side of the mountain, but the vault itself is more than 100 metres further in.
And in case one of those doomsday scenarios hits, Svalbard is accessible – commercial flights reach the island – but the location of the bank is remote.
The Crop Trust, that plans and organises the seed collection, refers to the vault as the “final back up”.
The vault has the most diverse collection of food crop seeds in the world, and has already been used by Syria, after its seed bank was damaged in the civil war.
In 2015 the Icarda International Research Centre requested the return of several food crop seeds after its own bank in Aleppo was damaged. Last year, they sent replacement seeds back to Norway for storage once again.
“This demonstrates that the seed vault is a worldwide insurance for food supply for future generations,” said Jon Georg, Norway’s minister of agriculture and food.