Seeds and crops are vulnerable to a number of natural and man-made disasters. While they can be tenacious and profuse, they can also be delicate and susceptible to extinction. As a precautionary measure, a global seed vault that could house millions of seeds representing every important crop in the world, was constructed in the Svalbard archipelago. This is the Doomsday Seed Vault.
Funded entirely by the Norwegian government, its purpose, as you might guess, is to act as an insurance policy for the world’s food supply. It is a safeguard for the world’s genetic crop material; allowing countries to store their seeds for future use if the need arises.
Construction of the vault began in June 2006 and its doors were opened on February 26, 2008. Its strategic location is optimal because of the lack of tectonic activity and the surrounding permafrost ensures that the seeds will remain frozen even if there is loss of power. The low temperature induces slow metabolic activity, which increases the seeds viability for a longer period of time. The vault is also located 430 ft. above sea level so if the ice caps were to melt it would still remain above water.
The vault can carry up to 4.5 million varieties of crops. At capacity the vault can hold 2.5 billion seeds; 500 seeds for each species. At this time there are 860,000 species housed within the vault. The seeds are stored in custom 3-ply foil packages. Those packages are placed into boxes and stored on shelves.
The Norwegian government does not own the seeds that are kept within the vault; rather they simply own the vault itself. Each country that deposits seeds within the vault is the owner of those seeds and can have access to them in accordance with the terms agreed upon in the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. This is the treaty on which all 118 countries who house seeds within the vault have agreed.