The end of the last century geneticists began to raise the alarm that storage facilities for the planets biological diversity were under very real threat from ecological or sociological disaster. These various and widespread seed vaults are facilities form with the intention of protecting the Earth’s genetic plant diversity from biological or ecological disaster. In the event that an entire plant line was accidentally (or intentionally) wiped out seeds from these scientific institutions could be used to re-create entire biological gene lines. It was noted however that many of the storage facilities were exclusively regional in nature and therefore under very real threat. Should one individual facility be wiped out, the genetic plant diversity of an entire region could be lost.

This is when scientists proposed a seed-storage-vault. A storage facility for genetic plant material that would be located in a remote location far from both ecological and political activity. A global seed backup plan if you will. The remote Norwegian island of Spitsbergen was chosen due to its near constant cold temperature perfect for the preservation of seeds in the event of a refrigeration failure. The local permafrost can keep the facility adequately chilled should the electoral system fail. The island is also highly tectonically stable, so the vault is protected from the threat of earthquakes. The remote location makes the vault easy to secure and far from any social instability or political violence. The vault itself is designed to last without human intervention for hundreds or even thousands of years. The location is 430 m above sea level, ensuring that the important seed stocks will be kept high and dry even if the global icecaps were to melt completely. Buried in the sandstone of Spitsbergen Island this important storage facility is not manned full-time by employees but rather it is monitored by robust security systems.

The storage facility was paid for and constructed by the Norwegian government but its maintenance and operation is funded through a consortium of scientific groups and charitable organizations. Most notably a large endowment from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation helps to keep the facility running. Not that there is any threat of funding shortfalls due to scientific indifference. In fact the seed vault is a well recognized necessity for the continued ecological well-being of the planet.

Over 770,000 seeds are secured in four ply envelopes and stored in tens of thousands of plastic containers. Seeds arrive daily from around the world but the vault itself is far from full having been designed to comfortably store the entire planets global seed diversity collection which is estimated at over 1.5 million seed samples. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault has been designed to handle 4.5 million samples in anticipation of expansion in the future.

Recognizing the global importance of the storage facility artists from around the world at contributed to the design and decoration of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault making it not only a repository for genetic samples but also an ersatz art museum in a way only 1300 km from the North Pole. The entrance to the storage facility was specially designed to reflect and mimic the unique lighting conditions of this far north location. During long periods of darkness it is illuminated by thousands of fiber optic lights while in the long days of summer the reflective materials used to construct and decorate the entrance sparkle in the Arctic sunshine.