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Postby Omaha Red Sox » Mon Jun 19, 2006 8:26 am

Doomsday vault to avert world famine

12 January 2006
From New Scientist Print Edition.
Fred Pearce

WITHIN a large concrete room, hewn out of a mountain on a freezing-cold island just 1000 kilometres from the North Pole, could lie the future of humanity.

The room is a "doomsday vault" designed to hold around 2 million seeds, representing all known varieties of the world's crops. It is being built to safeguard the world's food supply against nuclear war, climate change, terrorism, rising sea levels, earthquakes and the ensuing collapse of electricity supplies. "If the worst came to the worst, this would allow the world to reconstruct agriculture on this planet," says Cary Fowler, director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, an independent international organisation promoting the project.

New Scientist has learned that the Norwegian government is planning to create the seed bank next year at the behest of crop scientists. The $3 million vault will be built deep inside a sandstone mountain lined with permafrost on the Norwegian Arctic island of Spitsbergen. The vault will have metre-thick walls of reinforced concrete and will be protected behind two airlocks and high-security blast-proof doors. It will not be permanently manned, but "the mountains are patrolled by polar bears", says Fowler.

The vault's seed collection, made up of duplicates of those already held at other seed banks, will represent the products of some 10,000 years of plant breeding by the world's farmers. Though most are no longer widely planted, the varieties contain vital genetic traits still regularly used in plant breeding.

To survive, the seeds need freezing temperatures. Operators plan to replace the air inside the vault each winter, when temperatures in Spitsbergen are around -18 °C. But even if some catastrophe meant that the vault was abandoned, the permafrost would keep the seeds viable. And even accelerated global warming would take many decades to penetrate the mountain vault.

"This will be the world's most secure gene bank by some orders of magnitude," says Fowler. "But its seeds will only be used when all other samples have gone for some reason. It is a fail-safe depository, rather than a conventional seed bank."

Norway first proposed the project in the 1980s but it was shelved because of security concerns: under an international treaty the Soviet Union had access to Spitsbergen at the time. With the end of the cold war and the signing of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources, which gives legal protection to national crops, the door was open for the idea's revival.

The project also comes at a time when there is growing concern about the safety of existing seed banks around the world. Many have been criticised for their poor security, ageing refrigeration systems and vulnerable electricity supplies. In the late 1980s, terrorists ransacked an international potato seed bank in the Peruvian Andes, while more recently anti-globalisation campaigners have demonstrated against other banks.

The new Fort Knox for the world's crops will start by taking seeds from the network of seed banks run in the Philippines, Mexico, Syria, Nigeria and elsewhere by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, which is part-funded by the World Bank. "We will then add samples from elsewhere until we have a complete set of the world's crop varieties," says Fowler.

The scheme won UN approval at a meeting of the Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome last October. A feasibility study said the facility "would essentially be built to last forever".

From issue 2534 of New Scientist magazine, 12 January 2006, page 12


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Postby Coppermine » Mon Jun 19, 2006 9:44 am

Great; so if you just happen to survive a nuclear war and are given the monumental tasks of saving humanity through returning civilization to an agricultural society, you have to make a raft (assuming all boats have been destroyed), paddle your way into the arctic circle in sub-zero temperature, carefully avoid polarbear attack (unless you're Cole Hamels, then it wouldn't be a problem), get into this vault, get the seeds, and return to fertile ground where you can start your little farm.

Sounds a little ridiculous to me.
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Postby Tavish » Mon Jun 19, 2006 9:56 am

Coppermine wrote:Great; so if you just happen to survive a nuclear war and are given the monumental tasks of saving humanity through returning civilization to an agricultural society, you have to make a raft (assuming all boats have been destroyed), paddle your way into the arctic circle in sub-zero temperature, carefully avoid polarbear attack (unless you're Cole Hamels, then it wouldn't be a problem), get into this vault, get the seeds, and return to fertile ground where you can start your little farm.

Sounds a little ridiculous to me.


No doubt, I would probably just live on Twinkies and Spam. The shelf life on those things are right around a century which should be plenty long enough for the new civilization to reinvent the nukes and blow ourselves up again.
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Postby CubsFan7724 » Mon Jun 19, 2006 11:15 am

So what if an asteroid hits the mountain where the seed bank is? I guess thats the end of that little project. :-b
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Postby acsguitar » Mon Jun 19, 2006 11:22 am

Is 2 million seeds alot?

I bought some seeds for planting and it looked like there was 100,000 of them in a tiny package the size of koolaid.

is this vault the size of a port o john
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Postby CubsFan7724 » Mon Jun 19, 2006 11:33 am

acsguitar wrote:Is 2 million seeds alot?

I bought some seeds for planting and it looked like there was 100,000 of them in a tiny package the size of koolaid.

is this vault the size of a port o john

Well you only need a few to survive, and then those make more seeds, and then you are on your way.
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Postby acsguitar » Mon Jun 19, 2006 11:34 am

CubsFan7724 wrote:
acsguitar wrote:Is 2 million seeds alot?

I bought some seeds for planting and it looked like there was 100,000 of them in a tiny package the size of koolaid.

is this vault the size of a port o john

Well you only need a few to survive, and then those make more seeds, and then you are on your way.


But do they need a massive vault?
I'm too lazy to make a sig at the moment
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Postby Coppermine » Mon Jun 19, 2006 11:51 am

acsguitar wrote:
CubsFan7724 wrote:
acsguitar wrote:Is 2 million seeds alot?

I bought some seeds for planting and it looked like there was 100,000 of them in a tiny package the size of koolaid.

is this vault the size of a port o john

Well you only need a few to survive, and then those make more seeds, and then you are on your way.


But do they need a massive vault?


and a vault "guarded by polar bears" at that. Believe me, if I'm in the middle of apocolypse, the last thing I need to deal with is polar bears.
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Postby acsguitar » Mon Jun 19, 2006 11:54 am

Coppermine wrote:
acsguitar wrote:
CubsFan7724 wrote:
acsguitar wrote:Is 2 million seeds alot?

I bought some seeds for planting and it looked like there was 100,000 of them in a tiny package the size of koolaid.

is this vault the size of a port o john

Well you only need a few to survive, and then those make more seeds, and then you are on your way.


But do they need a massive vault?


and a vault "guarded by polar bears" at that. Believe me, if I'm in the middle of apocolypse, the last thing I need to deal with is polar bears.


won't the polar bears eat our crops
I'm too lazy to make a sig at the moment
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Postby Omaha Red Sox » Mon Jun 19, 2006 12:05 pm

acsguitar wrote:
Coppermine wrote:
acsguitar wrote:
CubsFan7724 wrote:
acsguitar wrote:Is 2 million seeds alot?

I bought some seeds for planting and it looked like there was 100,000 of them in a tiny package the size of koolaid.

is this vault the size of a port o john

Well you only need a few to survive, and then those make more seeds, and then you are on your way.


But do they need a massive vault?


and a vault "guarded by polar bears" at that. Believe me, if I'm in the middle of apocolypse, the last thing I need to deal with is polar bears.


won't the polar bears eat our crops


Not if they're in the vault.
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