Svalbard, as Norwegian territory, enjoys security and political and social stability. Norway understands the importance of preserving Svalbard as an area of undisturbed nature, which is now an important research and reference area. The seed vault fits ideally into this concept.
Svalbard has an isolated position far out in the ocean, between 74° and 81° N and only 1000 kilometres from the North Pole. The archipelago is characterised by an undisturbed nature. Permafrost provides stable storage conditions for seeds. Besides which there is little risk of local dispersion of seed.
The seed vault, which consists of three chambers, is located right outside Longyearbyen and directly opposite Longyear Airport. The facility is about 130 metres above sea level and has been tunnelled 120 metres into the mountain, in a stable sandstone situation. Each of the three underground chambers is about 1,200 cubic metres (20 metres deep, 10 metres wide and 6 metres high). The location so far below ground guarantees stable permafrost for the foreseeable future and is high enough above sea level to secure the facility against any rise in sea level as a result of global warming.
The facility’s open location near the town makes monitoring and security easier. Security is the responsibility of the Governor of Svalbard in cooperation with the University of Svalbard (UNIS).
Since Svalbard was a natural choice for physical and security reasons, the Norwegian government decided that Norwegian ownership, operating responsibility and financing of the facility was equally natural. The seed vault is also in line with Norwegian policy with regard to biodiversity, preservation of genetic resources, north-south policy, development policy and food safety, as displayed in the following points:
- In establishing the international seed vault, Norway is making a unique contribution to the preservation of the planet’s most important biodiversity. This will help to fulfil the main objectives of the Biodiversity Convention and the FAO treaty, priority issues for Norway for many years. The seed vault could come to have a special significance for a number of regions in developing countries where the storage conditions in regular gene banks are a constant challenge.
- For many years it has been Norway’s aim to play a bridge-building role in the north-south debate about genetic resources and biological diversity. This doesn’t mean that we necessarily always take the middle line, but rather that we try to see new elements in the positions of all sides with the aim of finding solutions which actually lead to the sensible management of genetic resources. We believe that Svalbard Global Seed Vault can be a unifying initiative, which offers much to countries both north and south and which will hopefully also promote global collaboration in taking care of our most important genetic resources.
- Securing food supplies is one of the most basic issues in any strategy for eliminating poverty. In a time of climate change, this is equally a global issue. The establishment of a global seed vault is therefore very much in line with the principle of informed self-interest.