Seed Vault, Conservation For The Long Run

Travels to the seed vault on top of the world

Travels to the seed vault on top of the world

In advance of a story of our own, albeit set in the tropics at our upcoming beach resort, on this same topic, we thank Conservation for the story  they offered in an earlier issue of their magazine about this seed vault way way north:

…One day in Svalbard lasts four months, and the sun never sets; one night lasts four months, and the sun never rises. The other four months consist mainly of either long days with short nights or long nights with short days. Here the equinoxes—the two days annually with 12 hours each of daylight and darkness—really mean something. But what does “a day” mean here, and how many are there in a year? The islands collectively called Svalbard rise from the sea so far north they seem to lie beyond human thought. Their latitude is nearly 80º north, far beyond the Arctic Circle. Almost anywhere else in the world this far north, you’d be in the Arctic Ocean. Mainland Norway’s northernmost tip is about 500 miles south of us. Many people have never heard of these islands; few would want to come here. For those who have and who do, it’s neither easy nor hospitable. The annual average temperature is 25º Fahrenheit (–4º C); the record low, –51º Fahrenheit (–46.3º C).  Some 60 percent of the land is covered by glaciers and ice sheets; 27 percent is simply bare; and less than 10 percent is vegetated. The nearest tree—or even shrub—is hundreds of miles behind us, on the European continent. Although the Inuit people elsewhere learned to master sea ice and long crossings of the Arctic Ocean, no aboriginal people ever got this far. But now I’ve come to the spare and elemental top of the world, into the music of vast silences and the heave and subsidence of a cold, dark sea. I hope to see creatures living to a different rhythm, a rhythm not of our time—though that pace, too, is changing. Partly, I came to this place beyond humanity to see where we’re all headed. Though it’s mid-July, snow flurries greet my arrival. The bubble of civilization extends to here, but barely. The 2,000 residents live off coal mining. The main town, Longyearbyen, is named after the person who developed the mining, although with those four months of uninterrupted night and temperatures dozens of degrees below zero, it must seem a “long year” indeed. The people here rely entirely on food imported from lands a thousand or more miles south. But that’s not the only connection between local coal and distant places. Coal combustion is helping change the climate. Cary Fowler, a curly-haired man, has come to this land without farming to save the future of agriculture. “It’s a foregone conclusion that climate change will affect agriculture,” Fowler is telling me. “The open question is: Will agriculture adapt?” Adapting a plant variety to a new region—or a new climate—isn’t easy or quick. Temperature limits the natural ranges of many species of plants and animals. To understand how profound this limitation is, think of it this way: at the edges of a species range, each individual and each generation have the opportunity to expand just beyond the confines of their species’ normal range. The rewards would certainly be great: more territory, less competition, more market share. Yet many species apparently cannot adapt to temperature regimes and climate conditions different from those to which they’ve already adapted. At the very least, such adaptation is not simple or certain. Just ask any dinosaur. Through what looks a bit like a concrete-reinforced cellar door in a frozen mountain, we enter a nearly 400-foot-long tunnel dug through solid rock. The tunnel connects a series of cavernous storage rooms maintained at 0º Fahrenheit (–18º C), and the whole space resembles a big multichambered cave. This is the Doomsday Vault, the world’s cold-storage site for agriculture—a safe-deposit box for seeds. More formally, it’s called the Global Seed Vault, established in 2008 by the Global Crop Diversity Trust; its location was chosen for its insulation from conflict, floods, and fires. And the area deep beneath this mountain is expected to stay frozen for a long time, even under projected warming. Warming is why we’re in so cold a place. “Crop diversity is the biological foundation of our future agriculture,” Fowler asserts… Agriculture is, and is not, very diversified…

Read the whole story here.

2 thoughts on “Seed Vault, Conservation For The Long Run

  1. Pingback: Seeds, Activism, Hope | Raxa Collective

  2. Pingback: Seed Saving as a Safeguard for Biodiversity | Raxa Collective

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