Doomsday scenarios and post-apocalyptic ideas are fun to consider. With global climate change, a growing worldwide population, and the increasing question of food security, it’s hard not to consider what will end up being the event that will change life on Earth as we know it. Some have started looking ahead, though, and have a solution that could one day save humanity from mass extinction.

Hidden in Norway

Norway isn’t the location that one first things of when they consider lifesaving technology, or even the first place to go when the apocalypse comes. It’s cold and remote, and though Norwegians have some of the highest levels of life satisfaction on earth, it’s still not anyone’s first vacation destination.

Source: Cierra Martin for Crop Trust

Despite this, it has become home to a structure that could, one day, save humanity from itself. Yes, this does sound like the plot to a bad sci-fi movie, probably one starring Tom Cruise. But the reality of it is much simpler than the premise might make it seem.

Deep in the Norwegian Archipelago

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is a structure that is buried deep in the Norwegian archipelago, which is a group of islands. It’s far away from any other civilization, and can only be reached by boat or plane. Don’t try, though – the vault is closed to the public, a fact that has made it the target of conspiracy theorists worldwide.

Source: Wikimedia/Bair175

Conspiracy theories aside, the reality of the vault is quite simple. It is a cold storage facility that is used to hold duplicates of seeds that are conserved in different genebanks all around the world. The intent of the facility is to provide security, in the case that any of these other genebanks are eradicated and the world food supply is threatened.

Food Security is of Utmost Importance

Food security could be threatened in any number of ways in an apocalyptic scenario. Natural disaster, political mismanagement, facility failure, funding cuts…any of these situations and more could happen. The potential of the world food supply being threatened drove the formation of a tripartite agreement between the Norwegian government, the Crop Trust, and the Nordic Genetic Resource Center.

Source: Reddit

The Global Seed Vault was first opened in 2008, to little fanfare. The point of the vault was not to create press, but to provide a backup and a safety net for food security. The seeds are stored in a facility that is -18 degrees Celsius, and are locked securely between five steel doors.

Construction Began in 2006

Construction on the vault first broke ground in 2006, and was entirely funded by the Norwegian government. It took several years for the structure to be completed, and by the time the vault was open for business, an agreement had been struck that the country of Norway and the Crop Trust would pay for operational costs.

Source: Wikimedia/Dag Endresen

As soon as construction was complete, the facility was operational and ready to receive donations. As mentioned, the Global Seed Vault is a backup facility, holding samples and donations from other gene banks from around the world. It was never intended as the first line of defense against food insecurity, and hasn’t acted in that way since its inception.

Storage Is Free, But Permanent

Storage of seeds is free for those who are willing to donate to the seed vault. Once the seeds are in the vault, though, it is much harder to get them back out again. As the vault is not open to the public, individuals and researchers cannot simply request samples of the seeds that were donated to the GSV.

Source: Wikimedia/Dag Endresen

Instead, if researchers and other groups need to get a hold of different seed samples and are unable to source them locally, they have to seek out the genebank that donated to the GSV in the first place. Seeds are available for request in accordance with the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources, which allows the GSV to exist in peace, far from the public eye

A Popular Fictional Plot Point

The vault has been the subject of different depictions in pop culture throughout the years, leaning into the mysterious nature of the vault. It was the inspiration for Ibsen International’s art project titled “The Seed,” a venture that was supported by the Norwegian government.

Source: Wikimedia/CGIAR Genebank Platform

It’s also featured in different media, including television and novels. Different depictions of the GSV have been seen in Futurama, the Belgian Netflix TV series Into the Night, the American television series Scorpion, as well as being depicted in Stephen Baxter’s science fiction novels Flood and Ark.

A Virtual Tour to the Rescue!

While the public are not allowed in to see the GSV, efforts have been recently made to reduce some of the mystery around the building and what it does. Early in 2023, management of the GSV put together a global tour of the vault, showing how it’s arranged and explaining the purpose of the seeds that it holds safe.

Source: Reddit

This virtual tour fascinated some, and soothed the fears of others who believed in some of the conspiracy theories around the vault. It didn’t calm the fears of those who believe that the vault is a symptom of an advanced virtual world simulation, but there’s likely little that can be done for those people.

The Global Seed Vault is Deeply Important

The Global Seed Vault is one of the fascinating not-secret secrets that our governments hold close to their chest. While knowledge about the building is technically public, it’s one of those things that most people don’t know about, and will likely never consider important.

Source: Wikimedia/Dag Endresen

Despite this, the GSV performs a very important task in keeping backups of the world’s food security. In the event of a plague or some other global event that devastates food supply around the world, the GSV could be the one and only foothold between life on Earth and human extinction.