Doomsday Arctic seed vault to receive two deposits in 2016

To protect the seeds, the vault is rarely opened.
To protect the seeds, the vault is rarely opened. PHOTO: DAVE WALSH

OSLO (Reuters) - Two new consignments of crop seeds will be deposited next year in the "doomsday vault" built in an Arctic mountainside to safeguard global supplies.

The vault - which opened on the Svalbard archipelago between Norway and the North pole in 2008 - is designed to protect crop seeds such as beans, rice and wheat against the worst cataclysms of nuclear war or disease.

It already has more than 860,000 samples, from almost all nations. Even if the power were to fail, the vault would stay frozen and sealed for at least 200 years.

"The seed vault is the back-up of the back-up," said Cierra Martin, a spokeswoman for the Crop Trust, the Bonn-based organisation which manages the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.

She said two deposits were planned for next year, but that the details of the deposits were as yet unclear. "The deposits are due in March and May," she said.

To protect the seeds, the vault is rarely opened.

Syria's civil war prompted the first withdrawal of seeds from the vault in September, following a request by the International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA).

ICARDA moved its headquarters to Beirut from Aleppo in Syria in 2012 because of the conflict. "ICARDA had to move collections in Syria to Morocco and Lebanon and the seed vault helped them reestablish their collections," said Martin.

Many of these seeds, which included samples of wheat, barley and grasses suited to dry regions, have traits resistant to drought, which could help breed crops to withstand climate change in dry areas from Australia to Africa.