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How the Svalbard Global Seed Vault Built off of Beal

Seeds at Svalbard Global Seed Vault

How the Svalbard Global Seed Vault Built off of Beal

Saving seeds has become one of the world's most important projects.

If Beal went looking for a place to safeguard the genetic diversity of the crops that feed our world today, he might look far north—somewhere between Norway and the North Pole, in a place called Svalbard. It’s known for its rugged, remote terrain of glaciers and frozen tundra perfect for polar bears, reindeer, Arctic foxes and a seed vault built into a mountain under permafrost and ice.

Built in 2008 by the Norwegian government as a safety net against accidental loss of diversity, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault recently received seeds from 33 countries, growing the total number of samples stored there to just over 1 million. The vault provides a safe backup of food crop seeds conserved by seed banks worldwide. The samples include not only currently active seeds but also old varieties that senior officials for the Crop Trust, which manages the vault, have described as 13,000 years of agricultural history.

Suited for protecting the seeds harvested from plants grown around the globe, the frozen ground keeps the vault at a cool minus 3 degrees Celsius and a cooling system takes it down another 15 degrees. The low temperature plus the limited oxygen inside the mountain help to delay seed aging.  

We can only imagine how thrilled Professor Beal would have been to learn that a seed vault buried deep in the earth would be more than an experiment. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault was named No. 6 on Time’s Best Inventions of 2008 and is regarded as one of the 50 most influential projects of the last half century, offering the world peace of mind and insurance against climate change.

Read more on what William J. Beal built at MSU