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The National Geographic channel is offering a rare glimpse inside the Svalbard Global Seed Vault (SGSV) tonight at 9 p.m. as part of the final installment of its How The Earth Changed History three-part miniseries.
Nicknamed the doomsday vault, the Svalbard seed bank is a joint public-private biodiversity bank of last resort, accepting donations from other seed or gene repositories around the world, to be accessed only in case of dire emergency when all other stores have been exhausted or destroyed. The vault is a sort of genetic back-up drive, hollowed out of a permafrost-covered peak on the Norwegian Arctic island of Spitsbergen and designed to store 4.5 million different seed types, including multiple variants of the same plant. It recently passed half capacity and has cached over 250 million individual seeds at a temperature of zero degrees Fahrenheit, in an environment virtually immune to the wages of climate, tectonics, even nuclear blasts--not to mention the societal and political strife that may threaten more readily accessible seed stores.
While this bulwark against waning biodiversity is not without its detractors, Norway and its partners have made numerous overtures to non-partisanship. While the Scandinavian nation owns the SGSV and its Ministry of Agriculture and Food supervises its operation, Norway does not take ownership of its contents, which remain the sole responsibility of their depositors and cannot be removed without the depositor's approval. Storage is offered free of charge to all under the auspices of international law and no single person, Norwegian official or otherwise, holds all the codes necessary to open the vault doors.