Norway will spend 100 million Norwegian Crowns ($12.7 million) to upgrade the doomsday seed vault it built 10 years ago. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault was constructed in an abandoned Arctic coal mine to store and safeguard the world’s crops and plants from global natural or man-made disaster. If nuclear war or global warming kills certain crops, governments will be able to request seeds from the vault to restart their agricultural industries.
The Norwegian government says the upgrades will include the construction of a new concrete access tunnel and a service building that will house “emergency power and refrigerating units and other electrical equipment that emits heat through the tunnel.” Norway’s minister of agriculture and food, Jon Georg Dale, said the building work will begin soon. “It is a great and important task to safeguard all the genetic material that is crucial to global food security,” Dale said in a statement.
The vault is located on a remote island in the Svalbard archipelago between Norway and the North Pole and has the capacity to store 4.5 million crop varieties. It currently holds more than 890,000 samples from nearly every country in the world, including varieties of staple crops like maize, rice, wheat, cowpea, barley, and potato.
Researchers previously withdrew seeds for the first time from the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in 2015. These were used to create seed banks in Morocco and Lebanon after the region’s central seed bank in Aleppo in Syria was damaged during the country’s civil war. The seeds have since been regrown and were redeposited at the Norwegian vault in 2017.
Last year, melting permafrost caused by unusually warm temperatures seeped into the seed vault, but fortunately, water didn’t flood into the vault itself. The island the seed vault is built on is also home to the World Data Archive, a place where instead of seeds, data is stored on reels of specially made film and kept safe.