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Work Begins on Arctic Seed Vault 89

Aryabhata writes "BBC reports that Norway is starting construction on a 'doomsday vault' in the Arctic which is designed to house all known varieties of the world's crops. The vault's purpose is to ensure survival of crop diversity in the event of plant epidemics, nuclear war, natural disasters or climate change; and to offer the world a chance to restart growth of food crops that may have been wiped out. 'More than 100 countries have backed the vault, which will store seeds, packaged in foil, at sub-zero temperatures. ... Norway's Agriculture Minister Terje Riis-Johansen has called the vault a "Noah's Ark on Svalbard."'"
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Work Begins on Arctic Seed Vault

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  • by nizo ( 81281 ) * on Monday June 19, 2006 @03:58PM (#15563923) Homepage Journal
    The sad part comes when in 50 years this vault is eagerly opened and found to only contain many many dead weevils [wikipedia.org].
  • Vault 13 (Score:5, Funny)

    by Dolly_Llama ( 267016 ) * on Monday June 19, 2006 @04:01PM (#15563945) Homepage
    General "Buck" Turgidson: Doctor, you mentioned the ratio of ten women to each man. Now, wouldn't that necessitate the abandonment of the so-called monogamous sexual relationship, I mean, as far as men were concerned?

    Dr. Strangelove: Regrettably, yes. But it is, you know, a sacrifice required for the future of the human race. I hasten to add that since each man will be required to do prodigious... service along these lines, the women will have to be selected for their sexual characteristics which will have to be of a highly stimulating nature
  • by Chabil Ha' ( 875116 ) on Monday June 19, 2006 @04:02PM (#15563949)
    but it would really be ironic if, sometime in the distant future, the vault is broken open and actually causes the destruction of future life because of ecosystem incompatibilities. I say live and let die. The Earth seems quite adept at recovering and moving on over its billions of years. We weren't the first ones here, nor the last. We are not even a fraction of a blink of an eye to the Earth.
    • by RsG ( 809189 ) on Monday June 19, 2006 @04:13PM (#15564040)
      Uh, these are crop seeds. They aren't trying to preserve wild organisms or anything like that.

      Domesticated crops can't even handle your average weed all that well. They aren't part of any natural ecosystem (some can't even breed without human help). They're essentially dependant on us to survive, which is exactly why we need to have a backup stored, in case we fuck up our existing stocks. How exactly would this "cause the destruction of future life"? Attack of the killer tomatos maybe?

      And as for the earth adapting, who cares? The earth isn't in any danger, and never has been. There are plenty of events that would be disasterous for our species, and plenty of other events that would be equally disasterous for other species, but as you rightly say, life would adapt and continue. However, we might not be around to see it.

      This vault has nothing to do with helping the earth adapt and everything to do with helping future humans adapt/recover.
      • The earth isn't in any danger, and never has been. There are plenty of events that would be disasterous for our species, and plenty of other events that would be equally disasterous for other species, but as you rightly say, life would adapt and continue. However, we might not be around to see it.

        Ya, ya, maybe the War Games will bring about the time of the Bumble Bee...
        Thanks Dad,

        - Joshua

      • > Domesticated crops can't even handle your average weed all that well.

        Actually, most commercial crops are highly competitive.

        > They aren't part of any natural ecosystem...

        Natural, smatural. We and they are part of the same ecosystem.

        > some can't even breed without human help.

        Many plants can't breed without the help of some animal. For crop plants, that animal happens to be us. The strategy has been very successful.
    • by oni ( 41625 ) on Monday June 19, 2006 @04:55PM (#15564366) Homepage
      2145. It was after the gene wars. Mankind huddled in the dark on baron continents, fighting each other for tiny scraps of meat. But there was a hero; one with a memory of the before time and the scrapers, and the courage to make the dangerous journey to the artica where, the ancient scrolls hinted, the salvation of mankind might be found.

      For over a decade, he and his brave knights fought against danger and fortune to make their way to the artica. Many died. Much was lost. But one day, our intrepid hero arrived home, in his tiny, all-but-dead village. He carried in his hand, a single vile.

      "this is all that has survived of my trip" he explained. "though the artica contained many wonders, our journey was hard, and most of our cargo was lost. We managed to save this one plant. It shall be the foundation of a new human culture. We shall plant it and tend it, and we shall teach our children to cherish it. This plant is a gift from our distant ancestors. It's name" (he turns the vile on its side so that he can read the inscription) "is, Kudzu"
    • We are not even a fraction of a blink of an eye to the Earth.

      What do you do with us causing the 6th massive extinction? A blink of an eye? More like a bullet to the head.

  • The Moon (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mr_stinky_britches ( 926212 ) on Monday June 19, 2006 @04:06PM (#15563984) Homepage Journal
    How about putting the vault somewhere on the moon? If there was a major nuclear disaster...couldn't the effects screw up the poles of the earth too?
    • Re:The Moon (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Rob T Firefly ( 844560 ) on Monday June 19, 2006 @04:19PM (#15564087) Homepage Journal
      If we're clawing our way out of the muck after doomsday, we're going to have a hard enough time getting to the Arctic, much less the Moon.
    • Re:The Moon (Score:4, Insightful)

      by RsG ( 809189 ) on Monday June 19, 2006 @04:22PM (#15564109)
      Think smaller than that.

      Anything that renders the human race extinct, by definitiion also renders these seed vaults irrelevant. This means that we mostly consider dangers arising from either war, plauge or natural disaster.

      War won't affect the poles as much as it will the rest of the world. There are no strategically signifigant targets nearby to worry about. Plague that wipes out crops won't affect frozen seeds in hard to reach places. And the only natural disasters I can think of that would matter here are things like global warming and asteroid impacts - and as long as you don't build somewhere that'll flood, you should be safe from those.

      The moon is much harder to get to. If we have a war, or mass starvation due to crop failure, we'd be better off with the seeds close to hand. And asteroid impacts are a much larger issue on the moon (no atmosphere to block them), as is radiation (which would sterilize the seeds), so it's not like they'd be a whole lot safer there than here.
      • Re:The Moon (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Surt ( 22457 ) on Monday June 19, 2006 @05:10PM (#15564465) Homepage Journal
        War won't affect the poles as much as it will the rest of the world. There are no strategically signifigant targets nearby to worry about.

        Except for the seed vault. Can't have our surviving enemies getting their hands on that. Better nuke it.

        • My thoughts exactly. If we build a single special vault for preserving some important resource, then it becomes a target. During the Cold War, there were enough nuclear weapons going around that even obscure bridges and dams were considered nuclear targets in case of full blown nuclear war. I seem to recall hearing that allies or just powerful neutral countries faced some chance of being nuked too. After all, Russia or the US wouldn't want to be colonized by a untouched China, for example. In this environme

      • Re:The Moon (Score:3, Interesting)

        by halcyon1234 ( 834388 )
        I'd much rather see some sort of fail-safe built into this vault. Humans have to periodically check in on the vault and press the button. If they don't press it after, say, 1,000 years, the vault goes into "reseed" mode. It assumes that:

        a) Humans are dead, dying, or incapable of reaching the vault

        b) Whatever knocked down the humans has dissapated over the last 1000 years, so it is safe for "human friendly" life.

        Of course, the 1000 years is arbitrary. I'd let a team of nuke'n'germ warfare folks com

      • Don't forget the exposure to cosmic radiation on the Moon that would eventually sterilize most of the seeds anyways over time.
  • by DaSenator ( 915940 ) on Monday June 19, 2006 @04:11PM (#15564029)
    ...the seed vault would probably end up being destroyed in the nuclear war.

    I can just see it now...

    "SoyLent Food Company - Good people making good food. Now in Green flavor!"
  • "...which is designed to house all known varieties of the world's crops."

    I wonder if Monsanto would believe that line?

  • considering the dark side of human nature and what geneitic manipulation corperations like Monsanto are doing i applaud Norway for doing this...
    • Odds are good that GM seeds are included in this vault. These are crop seeds, not seeds of naturally occuring plants.
      • by RsG ( 809189 ) on Monday June 19, 2006 @04:35PM (#15564215)
        Actually, if you really want to get technical about it, all our crop seeds are genetically altered. Domesticated plants and animals have been bred for specific purposes for thousands of years, and artifcial selection has altered the gene pool.

        In fact, half the danger to our current crops is due to genetic "monoculture", whereby the plants are all too genetically similar to each other. When you have field after field of practically identical plants, the possibility for a disease or parasite finding a niche is very high. Look at the Irish potatoe famine as an example of this.

        Hence the need for backups like this. Monsanto isn't the source of the problem, though they've certainly made it worse.
        • Actually, if you really want to get technical about it, all our crop seeds are genetically altered.

          Interestingly, another way to look at it is that we, as species, have co-evolved with our crop varieties, to the mutual benefit of each other. After all, human-cultivated crops are massively successful, from an evolutionary standpoint, and those same crops have ensured our own survival. The same can be said for the huge number of domesticated animal species out there.
        • exactly my sentiments, i trust natural selection over a profit driven corperation any day...
          • do you also trust common, curable diseases (natural selection) killing your children over medication (a profit driven corporation) saving them? oh i am sorry that would be a corpEration and those are quite vicious beasts all right.
  • by kabocox ( 199019 ) on Monday June 19, 2006 @04:24PM (#15564124)
    Um, I don't know about you, but I'd want several of these all over the global. They may need to re-think their idea though. If major planet disease/bioterror strike wiped out all our food sources and we really needed this to reseed the global food sources, what are the odds of no one being able to get there to unlock it? Or better yet we've nuked our selves back and we know that their is the vault and close to where it is, but unforunately it's being guarded by polar bears that are hungry... O.k. long term I'd put my money on the nuclearly mutanted savages rather than the polar bear, but why not several of these on each major land mass near major crop lands? Heck, why stop at stock piling seeds? Why not stockpile tractors and fertilizer and enough resources that you could feed a major city within a year from a single stock pile?
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Putting it somewhere easy to get to means it'd quite possibly get looted or otherwise somehow destroyed either through the normal course of society "seed bank? fuck that, we're building a golf course!" or as part of its collapse "mmm, seeds".
      You could post guards, of course, but this has problems of cost and isn't necessarily that effective in the long term.

      Having more than one bank is obviously a smart thing to do. But I don't see why it's just Norway who should be building them - write to your local repre
    • Forward-thinking in case of doomsday events is likely absent.Its judged alarmist.Of course,The judging people who just don't care or willing to die anyway in such an event.
      Now,plant crops are most valuable thing we have now in this ecosystem(though its considered as basic as having water).You can't reinvent them from nothing(domesticating leftover post-doomsday event plants will take ages).Coal,water,uranium,iron ore don't disappear.
    • The point of the vault is to store a couple (thousand) of samples, not to be a terraforming resource. The concern here is that after a major disaster, some types of crops might become totally extinct; the vault is there to allow people to reintroduce the particular crops back into the envirnoment. Creating such a vault takes less resources than creating a vault with crops and other resources that would allow to support a large population. Hell, such resources would probably be better spent by helping areas
      • almost every city that was around in the 50's has several fall out shelters. Some are still public while some have been sold off for private use. In these public falout shelters there should be enough canned food to feed and water around 200 people for three to four weeks. Businesses used to keep and maintain these fallout shelters as a public service too. Food vaults might already exist in some fasion.

        In my home town (central ohio area), i know of three that still exist reletivly close to downtown and at l
        • those exist.... (Score:4, Interesting)

          by zogger ( 617870 ) on Monday June 19, 2006 @06:20PM (#15565010) Homepage Journal
          ..many people now maintain their own long term "sealed in a can" seed storage, myself included. I always keep quite a bit of various garden seed packed away, a lot of them are in number #10 enameled cans just for this exact purpose like in the article.

              Google for "heirloom seens, long term storage", you can find companies that sell seeds packed into cans for long shelf life. You can do it yourself too, it's not that hard to make sealed containers with like CO2 flooded in there, etc. It's a common technique in the survival/preparedness communities.
          • Re:those exist.... (Score:2, Interesting)

            by Magada ( 741361 )
            Medieval (and earlier) people used covered-up holes in the ground (usually clay) to store their cereal. Many of these were found to have charred sides (but not bottom, which was covered in largish rocks) and bits of partly-burnt hay were found on occasion. An archeological mistery, but perhaps what these people did was to "pad" the walls of their pit with smallish amounts of hay, fill it, set the hay on fire and finally cover the lot to extinguish the fire. It is my educated guess that the hay would burn q
    • Why not stockpile tractors and fertilizer and enough resources that you could feed a major city within a year from a single stock pile?

      I think before we attempt to stockpile tractors and food (which is perishable, and would therefore need to be re-stocked every few years) and fertilizer and such to feed people in a major city for an entire year in case of a major disaster, we should perhaps focus first on feeding the starving people found all over the world.

      Regarding the stockpiling of seeds, I believe it i
      • I think before we attempt to stockpile tractors and food (which is perishable, and would therefore need to be re-stocked every few years) and fertilizer and such to feed people in a major city for an entire year in case of a major disaster, we should perhaps focus first on feeding the starving people found all over the world.

        Why? Let me play the Devil's Advocate for a second: saving starving people in Africa now doesn't help preserve the culture of the people who are considering the seed storage. Ultimately

    • Its quite simple really, the vault will emit radio waves that when properly decoded will form a 3d model of a length of human DNA with one base pair missing, when the missing base pair is encoded and transmitted back to the vault the door will open....
    • Don't stop at seeds and farm equipment. Those would be useful for the short-term recovery of the local population, but you also need to plan for long-term recovery of the civilization. Put in a few generators, a couple of computers, spare parts for both, and both hard copy and DVDs containing technical and cultural data such as great works of literature; blueprints for the farm equipment, generator, computers, etc. that are included in the "goodie hut"; and instructions for how to construct various useful
  • by bano ( 410 ) on Monday June 19, 2006 @04:39PM (#15564240) Homepage Journal
    I think it would be more prudent to have redundancy in this system.
    Maybe one in the arctic, one in antarctic, one in maybe the Sahara or Gobi, or maybe under a mountain somewhere.
    Thus ruling out some sort of catastrophy taking out the entire seed vault.
    You would also rule out one country being in charge of the system.
    • by amliebsch ( 724858 ) on Monday June 19, 2006 @05:24PM (#15564604) Journal
      or maybe under a mountain somewhere.

      I know of the perfect place! A huge, secure facility bored into a mountain that is designed to hold its contents unperturbed for extremely long periods of time. It's under a mountain, like you say...Yucca Mountain, I think it's called...

    • catastrophy? just wait until some rebels take control of the vault and then wipe all the other crop seeds out with some bioterrorism. Then everyone will have to pay them to replant or starve.

      Redundancy might be a must.,
    • Seed banks are nothing new. There have been seed banks in every western country for at least a hundred years, and there still are, so there is a lot of redundancy right there.
      This seed bank is a little bit bigger, that's the only difference.

      Seed banks need to replenish their stocks every few years by planting, because seeds will eventually degenerate even when stored in sub-zero temperatures.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    don't forget the weed, man.
  • I hope for them that the seeds stored are not like those nice monsanto F1 hybrids that freak out (become sterile) after one generation.. wouldn't do mucht to restore much on a global scale..

    Actually, it would be wiser to hibernate some of the more 'weedlike' or 'wild' crops, those that are not yet GM'ed to the final product, so that a fast start can be made to produce lots of initial raw material. (the 'wilder' the plant, the faster it multiplies, mostly.. and the offspring can be crossed with many a cultiv
  • to offer the world a chance to restart growth of food crops that may have been wiped out

    .... for a price

    1. create vault of all food crops in world
    2. incide thermonuclear war
    3. PROFIT!
  • Noah's Ark (Score:3, Funny)

    by johansalk ( 818687 ) on Monday June 19, 2006 @05:13PM (#15564488)
  • Global Warming? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dpaton.net ( 199423 ) on Monday June 19, 2006 @05:15PM (#15564507) Homepage Journal
    "Even if all cooling systems failed, explained Mr Riis-Johansen, the temperature in the frozen mountain would never rise above freezing due to the permafrost on the mountainside."

    Hmm..their backup/failsafe cooling system is permafrost. Cue the global warming inducted failure discussion.

    /flamesuit on
  • i don't think the island will be there if the glaciers melt.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Silent Running, http://imdb.com/title/tt0067756/ [imdb.com]

    In the end they all die except the stupid little robot.
  • by exp(pi*sqrt(163)) ( 613870 ) on Monday June 19, 2006 @05:58PM (#15564867) Journal
    Post-apocalyptic Human 1: So the seeds are buried somewhere round here
    Post-apocalyptic Human 2: But where exactly?
    Post-apocalyptic Human 1: Well I have the GPS coordinates here but they're a bit useless seeing as the GPS satellites were first to go in the War
    Post-apocalyptic Human 2: So how are we going to find them?
    Post-apocalyptic Human 1: Well I have a picture of the site.
    Post-apocalyptic Human 2: Cool, what does it look like?
    Post-apocalyptic Human 1: Well it's a patch of white snow surrounded by lots of white snow.
    Post-apocalyptic Human 2: Don't you have a map or something?
    Post-apocalyptic Human 1: Yeah, I can see exactly where it is relative to a bunch of features...
    Post-apocalyptic Human 2: Cool!
    Post-apocalyptic Human 1: ...but those features appear to be buried under a hundred feet of snow and we no longer have the technology to map the land that far down.
    Post-apocalyptic Human 2: So what are we going to do?
    Post-apocalyptic Human 1: Screw it! Seeds are just hippie food anyway.
  • I ~highly~ recommend everyone watch "The Future of Food", documenting the inner workings of Monsanto, the goal of which is to quite literally one day control the entire food supply of planet earth.

    After watching the documentary, I have to say, the don't have far to go...

  • by Zadaz ( 950521 ) on Monday June 19, 2006 @06:30PM (#15565062)
    If there's a "global catastrophe" big enough to wipe out a significant portion of plant species on the planet, wouldn't either:

    A) Human be pretty freaking dead also?

    B) If there were survivors, wouldn't they starve to death by the time they: 1) Went to the north pole and back, 2) found arable land to plant these seeds in the middle of a worldwide catastrophe, 3) Raised a successful crop?

    Besides, what do zombies need with seeds? They eat brains.
  • that everything you learned in school is seriously flawed, and that high-tech, global civilizations have been and gone several times before ours, (there's plenty of evidence of this), how often do you think some bright spark thought to set up a seed-bank or similar on the eve of destruction?

    Right. Now. . . How good a sci-fi novel would it be to set about searching for one such time capsule from a previous world-spanning empire? Atlantis, Lemuria, or something prior. . .

    Or have such things already been fo

Heisenberg may have been here.

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