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Arctic vault in Svalbard protects seeds of the world
Associated Press

A "doomsday" vault was built to house millions of agriculture seeds, shielding them from manmade and natural disasters.


Associated Press

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Published: 4/6/2008 1:30 AM

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LONGYEARBYEN, Norway-- Norway opened a frozen "doomsday" vault on Feb. 26 deep within an Arctic mountain where millions of seeds will be stored to safeguard against wars or natural disasters wiping out food crops around the globe.

Biblical references repeatedly cropped up as guests at the opening ceremony carried the first seed deposits into the vault in the remote Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard.

"This is a frozen Garden of Eden," European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said, standing in one of the frosty vaults against a backdrop of large discs made of ice.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg called the vault an "insurance policy" and added his own biblical comparison: "It is the Noah's Ark for securing biological diversity for future generations."

Svalbard Global Seed Vault, just 620 miles from the North Pole, is designed to house as many as 4.5 million crop seeds from all over the world. It is built to withstand global warming, earthquakes and even nuclear strikes.

The vault, built by the Norwegian government for $9.1 million, will operate like a bank box. Norway owns the bank, but the countries depositing seeds own them and can used them as needed free of charge.

Daily operations will be overseen by NorGen, a gene bank in an old coal mine on Svalbard that is jointly owned by the Nordic countries.

The vault will serve as a backup to the other 1,400 seed banks around the world, in case their deposits are lost. War wiped out seed banks in Iraq and Afghanistan, and another bank in the Philippines was flooded in the wake of a typhoon in 2006.

The seeds are packed in silvery foil containers -- as many as 500 in each sample -- and placed on blue and orange metal shelves inside three 32-by-88-foot storage chambers. Each vault can hold 1.5 million sample packages of all types of crop seeds, from carrots to wheat.

Svalbard is cold, but giant air conditioning units have chilled the vault further to a temperature of 0.4 degrees below zero at which experts say many seeds could last for 1,000 years.

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