The arctic doomsday vault, hidden inside over 400 feet of rock, sits a huge cache of seeds that are stored, in case of some global emergency. It is known as the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, and today, the first of the seeds from that supply have arrived to replenish a collection sent away for safe keeping during Syria’s Civil War, according to AP.
The doomsday plan was set in motion back in September, but the first samples actually arrived just today. The arctic vault sent its contents to research labs for the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Area (ICARDA) in Morocco and Lebanon-and though they may be the first, they’re far from the last.
What’s especially interesting about this shipment though, is the path these seeds took: Originally part of ICARDA’s regional collection, they first shipped them off to Svalbard over concerns that spreading conflict in Syria could take out their supply. Now, the seeds have been shipped back to ICARDA (which is now relocated in Lebanon and Morocco).
The Arctic Doomsday Vault plan was to make duplicates of the original seeds, before sending back another set of fail-safe boxes to Svalbard, in case of some other disaster. Svalbard has long-billed itself primarily as a “fail-safe” option-and many people have understood that to mean that the safe is there in case of some worldwide doomsday scenario.
Essentially, Svalbard isn’t acting as just a seed vault for a global-scale disaster, it’s also acting as a arctic vault to guard against a series of rolling disasters, including human made-ones, that hit in localized ways. But as this first shipment shows, it is not just doomsday disasters on a global scale that can wipe out our food supply, a series of regional disasters will do the job just as well.
That the first withdraw from the global seed bank was in response to the need for safe-keeping incredible volatility in a region tells us a lot about the kinds of problems we can expect in keeping a future food supply.
The Arctic Svalbard Seed Vault is designed to safeguard the seeds of 820,619 plants. Sadly, the ongoing civil war in Syria has caused the first-ever withdrawal of its precious contents.
The Syrian Civil War, a conflict that has been raging for four years and six months, has resulted in the deaths of over a quarter million people, instigated a refugee crisis in Europe, and set the stage for the so-called Islamic State.
It’s estimated that 11 million Syrians have been driven from their homes.
“Protecting the world’s biodiversity in this manner is precisely the purpose of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault,” said Brian Lainoff, a spokesman for the Crop Trust, which runs the underground storage on a Norwegian island 800 miles from the North Pole.
The seeds from the arctic doomsday vault, including samples of wheat, barley and grasses suited to dry regions, have been requested by researchers. These seeds will replace those in the gene bank near the Syrian city of Aleppo that has been damaged by the war.