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Global Seed Vault in Svalbard filled to 25% of holding capacity

February 26, 2018, 21:01 UTC+3 MOSCOW

Like any other depositor country, Russia has the right to take its samples back from the vault at any time

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© AP Photo/John McConnico

MOSCOW, February 26. /TASS/. The Global Seed Vault located on the Norwegian Arctic Island of Svalbard has been filled with seed specimens from different collections of food plants to 20-25% of its capacity over the ten years since its commissioning, Dr. Nikolai Dzyubenko, the director of the Nikolai Vavilov All-Russia Institute of Plant Genetic Resources told TASS on Monday.

"The data I have in my disposal - and I saw all of it myself during a trip to Svalbard - indicates that the depositary is filled to about one-fifth, 20-25% of its holding capacity," he said.

Like any other depositor country, Russia has the right to take its samples back from the vault at any time. For instance, Syria had retrieve the doublets of its seed specimens in 2015, as the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) located in Aleppo had sustained heavy damage during armed fighting.

"The militants pounded Aleppo with bombs and ICARDA staff evacuated a part of the collection to Morocco but the rest of the collection was replicated and handed to the world depositary for storage," Dr. Dzyubenko said. "That’s why Syria retrieved 10% of what it had deposited, or some 16,000 specimens that will now be used for further multiplication and studies."

"As far as I know, the maintenance of this depositary and the delivery of specimens from around the world cost about $5 mln a year, with the multiplication and delivery procedures taking up the bulk of the sum," Dr. Dzyubenko said.

The Global Seed Vault (Svalbard Globale frohvelv) was commissioned exactly on this day ten years ago, on February 26, 2008. The Norwegian government spent $ 9 million to build it. At present, the depositary reports to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Its main objective to rule out destruction of seeds as a result of possible global calamities and disasters.

"The vault is located at an elevation of 130 m above sea level and there’s no risk of flooding even on the background of today’s global climate warming," Dr. Dzyubenko said. "They’ve done very good waterproofing there and have made any further damping impossible."

"The problem is the summer of 2017 was very hot and the damping of the permafrost occurred," Dr. Dzyubenko said, adding that the leaks penetrated the passages rather than the depositary itself. "These corridors are used for entering and facility and the delivery of specimens there."

"There’s nothing tragic in it," he said. "Just purely cosmetic things are needed," he said.

Dr. Dzyubenko believes that, on the whole, the idea of a global vault has proved its worth over the past ten years.

"Seeds are kept on Svalbard far away from civilization, inside a former coalmine, in the bedrock, in permafrost," he said. "The facility is fitted out with special machines that keep up the permanent temperature of minus 18 C. This will help preserve the collections over many long years and to protect them against cataclysms."

Deposit on Svalbard today are about 900,000 specimens of seeds of collection plants from more than 70 gene banks located around the world. FAO believes the figure covers about 40% of all the unique specimens stored worldwide.

Any gene bank, either government-controlled or private, has the right to join the project. Research institutes, nongovernmental organizations or commercial companies having seed collections are also highly welcome participants.

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