Global Seed Vault

© Marcin Kadziolka/Shutterstock

Svalbard Global Seed Vault


Deep inside a mountain, down beneath the permafrost, a vast artificial cavern, already dubbed the Doomsday Vault or a vegetarian Noah's Ark, was opened in 2008. It's a repository with a capacity for up to four million different seed types (and up to 2.25 billion seeds in all), representing the botanical diversity of the planet. Note that casual visitors are not welcome.

Samples (typically around 500 seeds kept in a sealed airtight aluminum bag) from seed banks and collections all over the world are kept here at a constant temperature of -18°C so that, should a species become extinct in its native habitat, it can be revived and won't be lost for eternity. The vault is built into the mountain above the airport, 130m above sea level to ensure the vault survives any future rise in sea levels. The Svalbard site was chosen due to its lack of tectonic activity and the preservative powers of its permafrost.

But in these days of climate change and temperature swings, even the best-laid plans sometimes need readjusting. In late 2016, unseasonably warm temperatures caused part of the surrounding permafrost to thaw and water flooded into the vault's entrance tunnel. The water then froze in the tunnel and never reached the seeds themselves – in that sense the tunnel's defence mechanism of freezing any entering water worked as it was designed to. But the fact that water was able to enter at all in a facility designed to last forever caused a rethink and the Norwegian government hurried to make improvements (such as waterproofing the entrance tunnel and digging drainage ditches around the vault) to prevent this from happening in the future.

As of early 2017, the vault was home to over 930,821 different seed varieties, with approximately 270 million individual seeds – it already holds the most diverse collection of food crop seeds on earth. Visit for more information.

Plans were also announced in 2017 to build a 'data doomsday vault' in an adapted abandoned mine shaft on the same Svalbard hillside – the Arctic World Archive is a private venture designed to protect historically important documents and literature.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Longyearbyen attractions

1. Svalbard Bryggeri

1.73 MILES

Having opened for business in 2015, Svalbard's very own brewery makes the very quaffable Spitsbergen IPA, Spitsbergen Pilsener and Spitsbergen Pale Ale –…

2. Svalbard Kirke

2.12 MILES

The wooden Svalbard Kirke was first built in the 1920s but later rebuilt after being destroyed in the German invasion of WWII. It's a largely modern…

3. Wooden Steps

2.14 MILES

Some 50m south of Svalbard Kirke stand five weathered wooden steps, all alone, and a sign, 'Sykhustrappa' (Hospital Stairs). This is all that remains of…

4. Graveyard

2.22 MILES

Southwest of the town centre lies a haunting little graveyard with simple white, wooden crosses. It dates from the early 20th century and includes the…

5. Wild Photo Gallery

2.36 MILES

This gallery of stunning Svalbard photos by Ole Jørgen Liodden and Roy Mangersnes is small but filled with utterly unforgettable images. A book that…

6. Svalbard Museum

2.45 MILES

Museum is the wrong word for this impressive exhibition space. Themes on display include life on the edge formerly led by whalers, trappers, seal and…

7. North Pole Expedition Museum

2.46 MILES

This fascinating private museum houses a stunning collection of artefacts, original newspapers and other documents relating to the history of polar…

8. Kunstnersenteret

2.63 MILES

Attached to the Galleri Svalbard is the Kunstnersenteret, which serves as a workshop for local artists, with many of the works on sale.