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A most marvelous invention greets mankind from the snowy mountain banks of the Norwegian Arctic, about 600 miles from the North Pole. The world’s only true agricultural hard drive sticks out from its underground habitat. This invention, funded in part by Bill Gates, could be mankind’s only solution for replanting the Earth’s crops after the inevitable doomsday.
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault still stands in relative infancy. In 2008, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research launched the project to preserve all manner of plant seeds. All varieties and a “spare” copy of all seeds can be stored in the vault free of charge. This vault aims to preserve as much plant life as possible during global crises.
The Global Crop Diversity Trust and the Nordic Genetic Resource Center currently manage the vault. Bill Gates believed in the project to such a degree that he invested $30 million of his own cash. As designed, the vault should last over a thousand years and is built to cope with all varieties of disaster. Climate change, asteroid strikes, and nuclear war will undoubtedly be rough on the human race, but at least the seeds shall survive and make themselves available for planting by any surviving humans.
The rate of storage hit its stride early on in the vault’s history. As of 2012, 740,000 different types of seed are stored away for the future. The number has grown slightly to 770,000 varieties. At this rate, the vault should hopefully contain every type of seed encountered by man before Doomsday strikes.
As part of its backup method, the vault keeps duplicate seed stashes at local seed banks scattered all over the globe. Not everyone is allowed to access these seeds, of course. The person who deposits them can always retain access. Hopeful breeders and researchers are much lower down the chain.
The oddest aspect of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is that, despite its importance, the vault remains almost completely unmanned. The entire deposit process is automated and verified by a human at some point. The vault does not employ a full-time staff, and no one person is allowed to know all of the entrance codes. The vault remains indispensable to agriculture in the face of a global crisis. Doomsday planning is big business, but this little vault stands quietly in the Arctic, waiting to do one of the most important jobs ever — return plant life and biodiversity to planet Earth after a global catastrophe.
FYI: An interactive tour of the vault is available for the taking! The tour shows the shelving process a seed deposit follows.