Home > Our work > Svalbard Global Seed Vault > Frequently Asked Questions
What’s the purpose of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault?
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault offers safe, free-of-charge, long-term storage of duplicates of seed samples stored in the world’s genebanks. The Seed Vault works as an insurance policy for these genebanks should they lose their material for any reason. By providing a safety back-up, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault contributes to securing crop diversity important for the world’s food production.
Who is behind the Seed Vault?
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault was established and is owned by Norway. It is operated in a unique partnership between the Norwegian Ministry of Food and Agriculture, the regional genebank NordGen and the Crop Trust, an independent international organization.
Can I apply for a position working at the Seed Vault?
There are no permanent staff on site at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. NordGen, who has its head office in Alnarp, Sweden, sends staff there when the Seed Vault is opened for deposits. Statsbygg, which has an office in Longyearbyen, is responsible for servicing and for the continuous surveillance of the Seed Vault. The Seed Vault does not have any possibilities to accept interns, job applications or students.
Where can I see what the Seed Vault holds?
Updated information regarding the seeds deposited in the Seed Vault can be found on the online Seed Portal. The Seed Portal is updated after each deposit and can be found at the following URL: www.nordgen.org/sgsv.
Can anyone get hold of the seeds stored in the Seed Vault?
The seed boxes are stored under “black-box conditions,” meaning the depositors are the only ones who can withdraw their own seeds. When seeds are deposited in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, their legal ownership is not transferred. This means that a depositor who chooses to store seeds in the Seed Vault is still the owner of the seeds and the only one who can withdraw them from the Seed Vault. While the seeds are stored in the Seed Vault, only NordGen personnel are allowed to handle the seed boxes.
Can I deposit my own seeds in the Seed Vault?
Individuals cannot deposit seeds into the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. If you have seeds that you would like to save, we advise you to contact your national genebank or any other sustainable long term genebank near you and discuss securing your seeds there. Such a genebank may choose to deposit a duplicate in the Seed Vault. Depositors who send material to Svalbard do so consistently with relevant national and international laws. Each depositing institution still owns and controls access to the seeds they have deposited.
How long can the seeds stay alive in the Seed Vault?
Different seeds and seedlots have different longevities. There are longevity differences among species, and among seedlots within species. Some of these differences are genetic, but seed longevity is also highly dependent on the quality of the seed, which varies with growing conditions and maturity, pest contamination and after-harvest management. Well-dried and vacuum-packed seeds of the most long-lived species stored at -18°C can stay viable for centuries. The seeds in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault are kept at the same conditions (-18°C) as the depositing genebanks’ original collections. As these genebanks perform regular germination tests on their collections, they can work out when to send new seeds to the Seed Vault.
Does the Seed Vault only contain seeds?
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault only holds species of importance for food and agriculture having so called orthodox seeds. These are seeds that can be dried to very low moisture contents and that will stay viable for many years at low temperatures. Crops such as coffee, cocoa, coconuts and mango have so-called recalcitrant seeds which would die under these conditions. Other crops don’t make seeds at all, or do so rarely, for example potatoes and bananas. Other approaches are needed to conserve such crops.
How much did it cost to build the Seed Vault?
Norway spent approximately EUR 8.3 million in constructing the Seed Vault and later invested approximately EUR 20 million in the technical upgrade of the facility. The annual running cost of the Seed Vault is approximately EUR 1 million.
How many seeds can be stored in the Seed Vault?
The Seed Vault has the capacity to store 4.5 million seed samples. Each sample contains an average of 500 seeds, so a maximum of 2.25 billion seeds can be stored in the facility. The deposit and storage of seeds can continue for some time. It presently holds more than one million seed samples making it the largest safety duplication of crop diversity on earth.
What are the main differences between the Seed Vault and other genebanks?
The Seed Vault is an insurance policy for other genebanks. Plant breeders, researchers and farmers depend on genebanks around the world to obtain the crop diversity that they need. If those genebanks lose their own resources, because of natural or man-made disasters, the collections can be restored by retrieving the duplicates from Svalbard.
Why do you scan the seed boxes at the airport?
Seed boxes are scanned at the airport to ensure they contain seeds and nothing else. Longyearbyen airport has kindly lent us the use of their scanning equipment in order to facilitate this process.
What is the IAP?
The IAP is short for the International Advisory Panel to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. The panel consists of seven representatives of genebanks, plant breeders and other stakeholders to the Seed Vault. The IAP’s task is to give advice on the operation and management of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, provide transparency to its operations and serve as a direct channel for the depositors on issues related to the ongoing management and operations of the Seed Vault. NordGen acts as the secretary of the IAP and is responsible for convening its meetings at least once every other year. See the current members of IAP here.
Is it true that the Seed Vault lies in an abandoned coal mine?
No. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault has been specially carved horizontally into Plateau mountain. However, the first back-up storage of seeds in Svalbard, done by the Nordic Gene Bank (now NordGen) in 1984, was indeed in an old coal mine. This mine is situated a few kilometers from the site of the Seed Vault.
Is the Seed Vault at risk due to climate change?
While climate change is a serious concern for sustainable food production around the world, the Seed Vault itself is not affected by climate change, and we do not expect it to be affected in the future. The Seed Vault was constructed well above the worst-case scenario for sea level rise. The three seed chambers are carved out of solid rock mountain, and the tunnel leading to the chambers is made of waterproof concrete. The permafrost conditions in the chambers mean a lower energy requirement for mechanical cooling to minus 18 degrees Celsius.
Why did Norway decide to upgrade the Svalbard Global Seed Vault?
After 10 years of operation, the Norwegian Government decided to implement a number of improvements to the facility, due to recurrent minor leaks in the entrance tunnel during the snow melting season. After a pre-project, and in accordance with technical advice received in 2018, the Norwegian parliament decided to invest 200 million NOK (20 million EUR) in an upgrade of the facility. The project has focused on ensuring the access tunnel is watertight, improving security procedures, and switching to a new cooling system. The construction team turned to technology that had long been used by Norway’s oil and gas offshore industry. In addition to the facility upgrades, a new parking lot and office building were constructed.
Why aren’t the media and depositors let into the Seed Vault any more?
At this time, no individuals apart from authorized personnel, are allowed inside the Seed Vault due to enhanced security measures. Media and other distinguished guests have indeed been allowed inside in the past, to help disseminate information on the importance of the Seed Vault to audiences around the world. However, a new risk assessment was conducted during the recent technical upgrade of the facility, and, as a result, additional measures have been put in place to further guarantee the safety and integrity of the seeds and the facility which houses them. The number of seed samples stored in the Seed Vault has now reached over one million, representing an invaluable resource for global food and agriculture, and our main priority is to keep this legacy safe for the global community.
Are genetically modified seeds stored in the Seed Vault?
Norwegian and European law prohibits transfer of GMO across borders in Europe and therefore also import of GMOs and their storage in the Seed Vault.