The Massive Underground Vault Near the North Pole

February 10, 2010 at 2:09 am Leave a comment

By Chad Upton | Editor

Imagine your computer caught a really bad virus and you lost all of your files.

You lost all of the documents you’ve worked so hard on, all of the family photos you never printed and all the desktop icons you never clicked on. Hopefully, that never happens to you; if it does you’d probably be devastated, unless you have a thorough backup. Unfortunately, many people do not have a proper backup.

Now imagine our food crops or oxygen producing plants were being killed off by an aggressive virus that we couldn’t stop. If that happened, and it’s possible, how would we produce food to eat or air to breath?

Luckily, some smart people are keeping “backups” of as many plants as possible, so we can grow them again in the event of some man-made or natural disaster that wipes out existing crops and seeds.

These facilities are called seed banks.

Seed banks are a type of gene bank. A gene bank is a facility where organic material of any kind (not just seeds) is kept for the purpose of reproduction at a later time. Gene banks typically stock seeds, animal sperm (and eggs) and coral fragments.

There are approximately 1,300 gene banks that store about 6 million organic samples. This may sound like a lot but it is in fact a small portion of the Earth’s known biodiversity.

One of the first seed banks was setup by Russian geneticist, Nikolai Vavilov. It survived the Siege of Leningrad during World War II and is now the Vavilov Institute of Plant Industry.

Seed banks have come a long way since then. One of the most advanced seed banks, called the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, is buried deep in a mountain on the island of Spitsbergen — one of the closest land masses to the north pole. It is was built by the Norwegian government but is maintained by a trust that has been primarily financed by The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, UK, Norway, Switzerland, Sweden and many other smaller contributors, including some third world countries.

Seeds from all over the world are stored in four-ply packs and heat sealed to protect them from moisture. The mountain location is ideal for a number of reasons. It has a natural temperature of -3 °C (30 °F), so if power is lost completely, many of the seeds will survive for a very long time, potentially even thousands of years. The elevation is also important, if all of the polar ice caps melt, the site has been designed to remain above the high water level.

If you want to know more, check out this video and the source links.

PS – if you need an easy way to backup your computer, try one of these online solutions that offer 2gb of free space: Mozy, iDrive

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Sources: Svalbard Seed Vault, Gene Banks, Seed Banks, Spitsbergen

Photo By: Dag Endresen

Entry filed under: Demystified, Food and Drink, Geek. Tags: , , , , , , .

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