Time capsules: Noah’s Ark (of seeds)

There are many seed banks around the world, but Svalbard is the seed bank to end (or rather augment) all seed banks—a time capsule of GERMPLASM (no really!).

The Svalbard Global Seed Bank is located in an old mine on a Norwegian island (Spitsbergen), about 1300km from the North Pole. Countries or organisations can deposit seed at the facility as a back-up for their own collections, free of charge. Norway covers Svalbard’s operational costs, with contributions from various other groups (eg the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation). If climate change, disease, war or other disasters strike, the seeds held at Svalbard give us a chance to repropagate affected seed collections and crops.

What makes Svalbard a good place for a seed bank? It’s tectonically stable (and deep inside a sandstone mountain), very cold, and high enough above sea level that it will remain dry even if the ice caps melt. It is refrigerated to -18C (via locally-mined coal), but should the system fail it would still take several weeks for the temperature inside the facility to rise to the -3C temperature of the surrounding sandstone. Seed is stored in packages sealed to exclude moisture. Exposure to oxygen is also minimised, thereby delaying ageing and metabolic activity.

Svalbard is a sort of “working time capsule”, rather than the kind that is put away for a specific period of time, to be opened by our descendants. But does it look futuristic or what?!

The entrance to Svalbard. Photographer: Mari Tefre (2008). From the official website.

The entrance to Svalbard. Photographer: Mari Tefre (2008). From the official website.

The TIME issue of Materiality is going to be launched soon and in celebration we thought we’d put together a time capsule. Not quite as elaborate as Svalbard—it will involve zines, and a box of some kind. Stay tuned for more exciting updates!