Saturday, February 10, 2007

Seeds to be stored in world's freezer

Seeds to be stored in world's freezer
'Noah's ark of food' to preserve crops as climate changes
Agence France-Presse February 09, 2007

An Arctic "doomsday vault" aimed at providing mankind with food in case of a global catastrophe will be designed to surmount the effects of climate change, say the project's builders, who are due to unveil the architectural plans today.

The top-security repository, carved into the permafrost of a mountain in the remote Svalbard archipelago near the North Pole, will preserve three million batches of seeds from all known varieties of the planet's crops.

The hope is that the vault will make it possible to re-establish crops obliterated by major disasters.

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Font: ****"We have taken into consideration the [outside] temperature rising and have located the facility so far inside the rock that it will be in permafrost and won't be affected" by the outside temperature, said Magnus Bredeli Tveiten, project manager at Norway's Directorate of Public Construction and Property.

Construction of the seed bank, also dubbed the "Noah's ark of food," will begin in March.

The seed samples, such as wheat and potatoes, will be stored in two chambers located deep inside a mountain, accessed by a 120-metre tunnel. The tunnel and vaults will be excavated by boring and blasting, and the rock walls sprayed with concrete.

The seeds will be maintained at a temperature of -18C.

The vault is situated about 130 metres above current sea level. It would not be flooded if Greenland's ice sheet melts, which some scientists estimate would increase sea levels by seven metres. It is also expected to be safe if the ices of Antarctica completely melt, which experts say could increase sea levels by 61 metres.

The entry will be a narrow triangular portal made of cement and steel, illuminated with artwork that changes according to the Arctic light.

In summer, "in the midnight sun, it will look like a large diamond," Mr. Tveiten said. In winter, when the sun does not rise above the horizon, "it will glow into the darkness."

Behind the airlock door, each chamber will measure 375 square metres. Corrugated plastic boxes the size of moving boxes will sit on rows of metal shelves.

Each box will contain about 400 samples in envelopes made of polyethelene, and each sample will contain about 500 seeds.

The samples will be stored in watertight foil packages to act as a barrier against moisture should a power failure disable refrigeration systems.

Construction of the US$3-million vault is due to finish in September. It will officially open in late winter, 2008.

The design of the structure is "simple, it's functional, it runs by itself. We can't have a better design," said Cary Fowler, executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust and the brains behind the vault.

"It makes use of the natural cold. It's planned with the climate change factor taken into consideration and it will be frozen 200 years from now. And even in the worst-case scenario, if the temperature rises it will still be safe," he said.