Inside the Arctic Seed Vault Designed to Save Humanity From Extinction

In the Arctic Circle, on the far-northern Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, a drab facility carved into the mountainside could be humanity’s last hope in the event of a global catastrophe. This is the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a roughly 400-foot-long building designed to store seed samples for 4.5 million different varieties of crops from around the world, or 2.5 billion individual seeds. The vault even contains seeds from North Korea.


Among the crops stored in the cavernous underground ice tunnels at -18º C (-0.4º F): 150,000 samples of rice, and 140,000 samples of wheat. Now you can take a look inside as Motherboard tours this awe-inspiring facility.

The goal is to create a kind of genetic vault of human agriculture, or a „Noah’s Ark“ of genetic diversity, as the Global Seed Vault has been called.

For the non-farmers out there, you may not know that crops need genetic diversity to survive and thrive—that is, even a single type of plant (say wheat) needs to have several different genetic varieties to avoid being wiped out by pests and disease. Fortunately, there are a handful of gene banks around the world collecting and preserving seeds in order to ensure agricultural genetic diversity continues into the future. But what happens if one of these gene banks is destroyed?

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