On Aurora Expeditions’ Arctic Complete tour, you’ll sail off on the Polar Pioneer for the awe-inspiring vistas of Spitsbergen, Greenland and beyond, encountering the wilds of the Svalbard archipelago.

Cast into the icy waters of the Barents and Greenland Sea, Svalbard may seem to be simply a wonder of nature, surrounded by glaciers and home to some adorable reindeer, but there is far more to these Norwegian isles than meets the eye.

Here, on one of the world’s northernmost inhabited areas, you’ll find the Global Seed Vault, one of the world’s most precious resources. Let’s take a look at just how this incredible institution came to be.

The world’s agricultural back up

In case of any eventuality, it is crucial that we have the ability to restore vital crops and vegetation. In order to ensure that the world is not left wanting, tens of thousands of vital crop seeds are stored in gene banks around the world, preserved for future generations.

However, it became a concern that, should these national seed banks be destroyed due to natural disaster or war, there would be no ‘back up’ for the seeds. Therefore, the Global Seed Vault was established to hold a ‘safety stock’, free to use for the world’s seed banks.

Opened in 2008, it contains duplicates of seeds stored in gene banks both on a national and international level. Should any of these gene banks’ contents be lost, Svalbard will return the copies to the respective countries. This ‘black box’ arrangement means that Norway does not technically own any of the seeds, and that the respective countries who contributed them have the right to withdraw them should the need arise.

Deep in the mountains

The Global Seed Vault is situated 1,300 kilometres beyond the Arctic Circle deep in the permafrost – the temperature on an average day sits at a frosty -3 or -4 degrees Celsius. About a 5-kilometre drive from the Longyearbyen Airport, the Vault is built 130 metres into Mount Plateau, locally known as Platåfjellet, and covers 1,000 square metres.

The location is ideal, as the cold temperature can ensure that the seeds remain frozen at -18 degrees Celsius, even without power. The Vault contains the seeds of over 4,000 different plant species, representing the world’s greatest crop diversity. There are three vaults on the premises, with the capacity to hold up to 4.5 million different seed types, and 2.5 billion seeds.

As the building is tunnelled into the mountain, the only visible part from the exterior is the concrete entrance. Past this, there’s a 100-metre tunnel which leads to the three freeze storage vaults, each with tall shelves containing crates of seed samples. Each sealed crate holds up to 400 different seed types, with each sample made up of 500 seeds.

The Global Seed Vault has been built to last until the end of time, but in spite of its utilitarian design, the entrance is crowned with a beautiful artwork by Norwegian artist Dyveke Sanne.

Entitled ‘Perpetual Repercussion’, the niche in the roof enabled fibre optic cables to be installed, with the illumination allowing the gene bank to be seen from a distance. Through the clever use of reflective steel, mirrors and prisms, it almost encapsulates the magic of the Northern Lights, making for a dazzling sight.

To find out more about the incredible sights you can experience on one of our Arctic tours, you can download a brochure online, or alternatively, get in touch with one of our expedition experts.

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