'Doomsday Vault' Sees Its First Withdrawal

Spurred by the Syrian civil war
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 23, 2015 7:29 AM CDT
'Doomsday Vault' Sees Its First Withdrawal
This is a Feb. 26, 2008, file photo showing the Svalbard Global Seed Vault near Longyearbyen in Svalbard, Norway.   (AP Photo/Hakon Mosvold Larsen/Scanpix Norway, File)

The "Doomsday Vault" just got its first bit of doomsday press: coverage of its first-ever withdrawal of seeds. Since 2008, the vault has sat on a Norwegian island in the Svalbard archipelago, 800 miles from the North Pole where the soil is always frozen. It's a place so cold that Reuters explains that in the event of power failure the crop seeds within the vault would be preserved for at least 200 years. That makes it an ideal location to house and safeguard the seeds in the event of catastrophe, and the first catastrophe of sorts has apparently occurred: Syria's civil war. There are other gene banks around the world, one being in Aleppo. It's located at the headquarters of the International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA)— which itself in 2012 moved from Aleppo to Beirut due to the conflict.

Cary Fowler, the creator of the Svalbard vault, last month told Australia's ABC News that "we don't think that seed collection has been lost," but ICARDA has certainly lost its ability to get the seeds to farmers or scientists who request them. He said the plan was to "re-establish that gene bank center now in two locations: in Morocco and Lebanon." The Local reports that since 2008, ICARDA was able to send samples of 87% of its seeds to Svalbard and other banks. It's now asking for some 116,000 samples that include wheat, barley, and grasses that thrive in dry areas. The transfer will occur once the paperwork is done. While the news may sound negative, Slate points out the vault is working "exactly how [it's] supposed to work. When disaster strikes, the Arctic seed vault forms a sort of planetary insurance policy." (Read more about what the vault contains.)

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