FAQ - Svalbard Global Seed Vault
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault offers safe, free-of-charge, long-term storage of duplicates of seed samples stored in the world’s genebanks. The Seed Vault works as an insurance policy for these genebanks should they lose their material for any reason. By providing a safety back-up, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault contributes to securing crop diversity important for the world’s food production.
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault was established and is owned by Norway. It is operated in a unique partnership between the Norwegian Ministry of Food and Agriculture, the regional genebank NordGen and the Crop Trust, an independent international organization.
After 10 years of operation, the Norwegian Government decided to implement a number of improvements to the facility, due to recurrent minor leaks in the entrance tunnel during the snow melting season. After a pre-project, and in accordance with technical advice received in 2018, the Norwegian parliament decided to invest 200 million NOK (20 million EUR) in an upgrade of the facility. </br> The project has focused on ensuring the access tunnel is watertight, improving security procedures, and switching to a new cooling system. The construction team turned to technology that had long been used by Norway’s oil and gas industry. Oil platforms in the North Sea have waterproof legs anchored to the seabed, so the team used the same materials and technology to build and seal the new access tunnel. In addition to the facility upgrades, a new parking lot and office building were constructed.</br>The deposit that will take place on 25 February will be the first major seed deposit since the upgrade was completed a few months ago.
The IAP is short for the International Advisory Panel to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. The panel consists of seven representatives of genebanks, plant breeders and other stakeholders to the Seed Vault. The IAP’s task is to give advice on the operation and management of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault to the Norwegian Ministry of Agriculture; provide transparency to its operations and serve as a direct channel for the depositors on issues related to the ongoing management and operations of the Seed Vault. NordGen acts as the secretary of the IAP and is responsible for convening its meetings at least once every other year.
Threats to the Seed Vault
At this time, no individuals, including media, apart from authorized personnel, are allowed inside the Seed Vault due to enhanced security measures. Media and other distinguished guests have indeed been allowed inside in the past, to help disseminate information on the importance of the Seed Vault to audiences around the world. However, a new risk assessment was conducted during the recent technical upgrade of the facility, and, as a result,additional measures have been put in place to further guarantee the safety and integrity of the seeds and thefacility which houses them.The number of seed samples stored in the Seed Vault has now reached over one million, representing an invaluable resource for global food and agriculture, and our main priority is to keep this legacy safe for the global community. Further questions regarding these enhanced safety and security measures should be directed to Heidi Riise Eriksen. Head of Communications at the Norwegians Ministry of Food and Agriculture.Heidi-Eriksen.Riise@lmd.dep.no
While climate change is a serious concern for sustainable food production around the world, the Seed Vault itself is not affected by climate change, and we do not expect it to be affected in the future. There are many reasons why the Seed Vault will remain viable long into the future:- The Seed Vault was constructed well above the worst-case scenario for sea level rise The three seed chambers are carved out of solid rock mountain, and the tunnel leading to the chambers is made of waterproof concrete. The permafrost conditions in the chambers mean a lower energy requirement for mechanical cooling to minus 18 degrees Celsius.
Different seeds and seedlots have different longevities. There are longevity differences among species, and among seedlots within species. Some of these differences are genetic, but seed longevity is also highly dependent on the quality of the seed, which varies with growing conditions and maturity, pest contamination and after-harvest management. Well-dried and vacuum-packed seeds of the most long-lived species stored at -18°C can stay viable for centuries.The seeds in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault are kept at the same conditions (-18°C) as the depositing genebanks’ original collections. As these genebanks perform regular germination tests on their collections, they can work out when to send new seeds to the Seed Vault.
Updated information regarding the seeds deposited in the Seed Vault can be found on the online Seed Portal. The Seed Portal is updated after each deposit and can be found at the following URL: www.nordgen.org/sgsv.
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault only holds species of importance for food and agriculture having so called orthodox seeds. These are seeds that can be dried to very low moisture contents and that will stay viable for many years at low temperatures. Crops such as coffee, cocoa, coconuts and mango have so-called recalcitrant seeds which would die under these conditions. Other crops don’t make seeds at all, or do so rarely, for example potatoes and bananas. Other approaches are needed to conserve such crops.
The Seed Vault has the capacity to store 4.5 million seed samples. Each sample contains an average of 500 seeds, so a maximum of 2.25 billion seeds can be stored in the facility. The deposit and storage of seeds can continue for some time. It presently holds 992,032 seed samples making it the largest collection of crop diversity on earth.
A Norwegian law, promulgated prior to the establishment of the Seed Vault and intended therefore to apply more generally to research and use of GMOs in Norway, prohibits importation of GMOs and their storage in the Seed Vault at this time.
No. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault has been specially carved horizontally into Plateau mountain. However, the first back-up storage of seeds in Svalbard, done by the Nordic Gene Bank (now NordGen) in 1984, was indeed in an old coal mine. This mine is situated a few kilometers from the site of the Seed Vault.
Norway spent approximately EUR 8.3 million in constructing the Seed Vault and later invested approximately EUR 20 million in the technical upgrade of the facility. The annual running cost of the Seed Vault is approximately EUR 1 million.
There are no permanent staff on site at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. NordGen, who has its head office in Alnarp, Sweden, sends staff there when the Seed Vault is opened for deposits. Statsbygg, which has an office in Longyearbyen, is responsible for servicing and for the continuous surveillance of the Seed Vault.
Seed boxes are scanned at the airport to ensure they contain seeds and nothing else. Longyearbyen airport has kindly lent us the use of their scanning equipment in order to facilitate this process.
The Seed Vault is an insurance policy for other genebanks. Plant breeders, researchers and farmers depend on genebanks around the world to obtain the crop diversity that they need. If those genebanks lose their own resources, because of natural or man-made disasters, the collections can be restored by retrieving the duplicates from Svalbard.
By using data, software or other information accessed through the Data Portal, you will need to follow the data use guidelines, copyright or attribution request from the original source of the material. You may also acknowledge the use of the Data Portal using a citation in the following form:Seed Vault Data Portal [http://www.nordgen.org/sgsv] accessed on [insert date accessed here].Example: SGSV Data Portal [http://www.nordgen.org/sgsv] accessed on February 11, 2020.
Help, guidelines, manuals and user instructions for the portal.