It’s probably no surprise that the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is off-bounds to visitors and tourists – after all, it holds the key to humankind’s survival in the face of disaster, housing 1,194,244 seed samples from almost every country in the world. A new virtual tour offers armchair explorers the chance to peek inside the secretive facility, which is located in the Svalbard archipelago of the Norwegian Arctic.
The complex opened in 2008 and is jointly run by the Norwegian government, Crop Trust and Nord Gen, aka the Nordic genebank. Essentially a brutalist bunker encased in permafrost, the utilitarian structure is deep dug into a Svalbard mountainside and has an internal temperature of -18c – the international standard for conserving seeds.
‘The virtual tour gives everybody the opportunity to look inside. We think that is a general question of transparency and accountability to the broader public,’ Stefan Schmitz, executive director of the Crop Trust told the Guardian. ‘What is secured inside the vault is one of the most important global public goods we have on Earth. But we need to protect them, secure them and to make sure that they are conserved in perpetuity.’
A long tunnel connects the entranceway (the only part above ground) to the cathedral and its seed chambers. Three chambers are located behind heavy metal doors and are illuminated by strip lighting; these chambers are packed with red-and-blue steel shelves, stacked neatly with around 3’000 carefully labelled plastic boxes. They contain airtight aluminium bags of individual species samples belonging to a specific country, and you can click the boxes to find out more information.
Tour the Svalbard Global Seed Vault via the Virtual Tour Company.