If you were to protect the world’s most precious cargo, where would you hide it? Chances are it would be in the far north, at the end of the world, where the only creatures mad enough to inhabit such a place are monster polar bears and obstinate Norwegians.
Besides, if that cargo was food, or had the potential to be food, it could be frozen and stored indefinitely. At least this is what the Norwegian Government thought when they invested $9 million into the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a depository designed to protect the world’s seeds against any impending global disaster.
Dubbed the “doomsday vault”, the place is a converted mine, located roughly 1200 kilometres from the North Pole in Norway’s frozen wastelands. Its purpose is to provide “a service to the world”, as the place currently holds 250 million seeds, ready to reinvigorate life into the world should it be swept with tragedy.
After a recent trip to contribute rare Australian chickpea seeds to the depository, Australian farmer and scientist Dr Tony Gregson relayed his journey to this impenetrable fortress, which is somewhat reminiscent of a James Bond cliffhanger.
He says both himself and the Australian Ambassador had their precious seed collection scanned and x-rayed at the airport before heading far north. After much icy travel, the pair reached two great hulking doors in the side of a mountain.
It was here they were confronted by towering polar bear sentries (involuntary), before proceeding down a long concrete passageway until reaching three chambers, all at minus 20 degrees Celsius, which the pair described as “damn cold”. The rare dehydrated and vacuum packed seeds were then deposited in what Gregson labels “ the safest place on Earth”.
Indeed it might be, as this concrete, robust structure is built into the mountainside, 60 metres above sea level (to escape any imminent sea rises). It’s also surrounded by permafrost, which ensures temperatures are maintained in the event of a power outage. Then there’s those polar bears. Who’d want to mess with those?
However, Kuik Kaneq, Chief Elder of the Inuits, warns it is these very bears that will break the ice on the ruin of mankind. He says there are many skills to this arcane milky hunter of the north that are shrouded in folklore – as they are listening, watching, and waiting to raid the seeds of Svalbard to engage in a rather vigorous spot of ice gardening, to the detriment of all.