A new virtual reality (VR) experience allows curious onlookers to take a glimpse inside the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a “doomsday-proof” shelter in the Arctic that was set up to protect the world’s seeds from disaster and environmental devastation.
The online experience was launched earlier this month by the Virtual Tour Company as part of the 15th anniversary of the seed vault opening. It’s free to use and doesn’t require any signing up. Just hit the link here to get going: https://virtualtourcompany.co.uk/GlobalSeedVault/
Users can simply click around the exterior and interior of the vault as if they’re wandering through on a tour. There’s also plenty of text information and an audio guide to help inform your visit.
Built by the Norwegian Ministry of Food and Agriculture together with the regional genebank NordGen and the Crop Trust, the vault is located on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen in the remote Arctic Svalbard archipelago.
Nestled into the side of a snow-covered hill, the vault currently holds over 1.1 million seed varieties from almost every country in the world. The vast majority of the seeds are commonly eaten grains, such as rice and wheat, although it does also hold thousands of examples of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and other plants, including cannabis and opium.
The specimens are kept at -18°C (-0.4°F) to delay aging as much as possible. The frosty temperatures of Svalbard are part of the reason it's located in this remote region. It’s also a place that is nicely isolated from the perils of human activity, while remaining well-connected to transport routes and infrastructure.
Ultimately, its prime job is to protect plant genetic diversity to ensure the world’s future food supply. According to the website, it does this by providing "long-term storage of seed duplicates from all genebanks and nations participating in the global community’s joint effort to ensure the world’s future food supply.”
In other words, it’s a hard backup for genebanks of seeds around the world in the event of a disaster, whether it's due to mismanagement and funding cuts, to war and climate change. Ironically, however, there's been some speculation that the vault may be vulnerable to thawing permafrost driven by the climate crisis.