Flooding at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault

Flooding at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault

Svalbard Global Seed Vault, USC Canada

Surprise breach in the “Doomsday Vault’s” defenses highlights the precarious state of food and seed security in the face of climate change

Emerging news of flooding caused by the melting of permafrost at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway reaffirms more than ever the critical importance of keeping seed diversity in farmers’ hands.

“This is a facility that was built to stand the test of time and resist man-made and natural disasters,” explains Martin Settle, Executive Director of USC Canada. “It is a relief to hear that none of the seeds in the collection were harmed, but these events are far from reassuring. Climate change has already broken through the vault’s defenses, and these are the early days of permafrost melt. In the long term, how safe are the seeds?”

Nearly a million packets of seeds are stored at Svalbard from countries around the globe. Each one of these is a unique crop variety, which is why conditions inside the vault must be so tightly controlled. USC Canada supports Svalbard as a seed bank of last resort, but has been working through its Seeds of Survival program for nearly three decades to also ensure seed diversity remains in farmers’ hands around the world.

“There is no single solution to conserving the genetic diversity we need to feed the planet. Here in Canada, our national gene bank, community seed collections, backyard gardens, farms, and researchers all have a role to play,” says Jane Rabinowicz, Executive Director of USC Canada. “USC Canada and its partners are doing critical work in keeping seed diversity alive and available to farmers, and in giving seeds the chance to adapt to changing conditions year after year.”

In farming, as in nature, diversity is the best insurance policy.

“There is no replacement for keeping seeds in the hands of farmers. We know the impacts of climate change are going to be unpredictable. Even the world’s best engineering may not be sufficient to protect humanity’s most precious heritage: our food crops,” adds Mr. Settle.

Luckily, there are seed savers around the world who are innovating to keep seeds safe within their communities. By saving these seeds and making them accessible, these local networks are not only hedging against the risk of catastrophic loss. They are also giving seeds the chance to adapt to changing conditions – harnessing the capacity of biodiversity to ensure food security.

Way up north, in the permafrost, 1300 kilometers (807.78 miles) beyond the Arctic Circle, is the world’s largest secure seed storage, opened by the Norwegian Government in February 2008. From all across the globe, crates of seeds are sent here for safe and secure long-term storage in cold and dry rock vaults.

Video: Melting arctic ice threatens global seed vault


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