Doomsday Warehouse on Spitsbergen . Norway

Doomsday Vault

The Doomsday Vault is the figurative name for the World Seed Vault located on Spitsbergen. The Norwegians, the initiators of the project, have set themselves the ambitious task of providing a strategic reserve of plant seeds from all over the world in the event of a global catastrophe. It doesn’t matter if people or external forces cause the collapse of the Earth’s green shell: this powerful structure will withstand any cataclysm. It is no coincidence that the dry official name was quickly replaced by a bright metaphor of “doomsday”, because the contents of the vault will be in demand when the bulk of humanity ceases to exist.

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Video: Doomsday Vault

History of the Vault

In the 20th century, mankind did everything they could to ensure that their descendants would have something to do in the next 200 years. The emergence of nuclear weapons, large-scale man-made disasters, global climate change associated with melting ice at the poles – together or separately, these reasons can cause irreversible consequences for the earth’s vegetation. Scientists have decided that the inhabitants of our planet must be able to recover lost species quickly to ensure the habitual composition of air and food for the entire population.

Entering the vault

In the second half of the twentieth century, seed-safe buildings were built in every developed country in the world. The Svalbard project was a fundamentally new step in the development of an elaborate idea. According to the authors, who calculated all variants of the development of human history, the storehouse should be something like a bank room with safety deposit boxes, where each state will put duplicates of seeds from its national funds. If disaster strikes in the plant’s homeland, there would always be hope for the northern stockpiles. The idea was highly appreciated by international financial funds and invested almost 10 million dollars together with the Norwegian government. Construction began in 2006, and already in 2008, the store accepted the first batch of seeds.

Why Svalbard?

There were two reasons for choosing the island – geographical, more significant, and political. Climatic disadvantages of the archipelago turned into advantages when forecasting the success of the project. In conditions of permafrost, because of which Spitsbergen does not even have its own cemetery, it is easier to ensure the safety of reserves in case of a breakdown of all equipment and less energy costs for maintenance of equipment. The facility is built at an altitude of 130 m above sea level. This ensures that a potential worldwide deluge triggered by melting Arctic and Antarctic ice will bypass it. The region lies outside the seismic danger zone, so the reinforced concrete bunker is not threatened by earthquakes either. West coast of Spitsbergen is located outside comfortable zones for people living, but it is not so far from populous centers of civilization, as, for example, northern regions of Russia, and even in case of transport collapse it will not be difficult to reach it.

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Doomsday Vault Entrance Hall Tunnel Main hall Room where seeds are stored

Politically, Spitsbergen is ideal for international projects. Formally belonging to Norway, the island received a special status back in 1920. Since then, its subsoil may be exploited by about 50 states that have become parties to the treaty. Because of the difficult climate only the Norwegians and Russians are left who would like to mine there. However, it is possible to use the long-term experience of international cooperation for the new project.

Construction of the facility

The natural body of the depository is a rock, its impermeable entrance is reinforced with meter-thick reinforced concrete walls that can withstand even a direct hit by a nuclear warhead. To get inside, at a depth of 120 meters, the visitor has to go through a chamber-gateway. After passing through a concrete corridor, the visitor will find spacious halls, where he will experience a year-round temperature shock at -18 degrees Celsius. Such figures are helped by the refrigeration units, which are always on. In case of a simultaneous breakdown of all the machinery, the temperature will only rise slightly after a few weeks, so that the seeds will retain their ability to germinate until people get to them. Each country has its own section in the vault, and can only work in it with official permission from the authorities of the “depositing” state.Seeds, wrapped in foil, are placed in plastic bags and then packed into containers standing on racks. Motion sensors monitor any actions of those inside, ruling out sabotage.

Diagram of the Doomsday Vault

What is stored in the bunker today

Doomsday Storage

A) Entrance B) Sealed airlock system C) Container racks in the seed storage compartment D) Seed packet box E) Sealed seed packet

The Doomsday Vault, designed to hold 4.5 million tons of seed, is still a long way from being full. Project participants send in 500 seeds of each variety, with a preference for agricultural crops. Although only 150 types of plants arrive on the Earth’s table, 12 of which represent the most popular grains, but each of them includes thousands of varieties. The object will not become the absolute savior of the green cover of the Earth, but it will ensure the safety of the achievements of mankind, which by its research and constant selection multiplied the diversity of the plant world.

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Modern art

Norwegian law states that any public building financed by the government and exceeding a certain value must be valued as a work of art. Normally the artwork is within the building, but the World Seed Vault is a special, safe place that ordinary people cannot visit. KORO, an agency that oversees the proliferation of art in public spaces, invited Daivek Sanna to highlight the beauty and grandeur of Arctic light in the design of the vault. The artist made the art element visible by placing it on the roof and front of the Doomsday Vault entrance.

Roof of the Vault Facade of the Doomsday Warehouse

The façade and roof of the building are decorated with steel reflective triangles of various sizes. They are complemented by prisms and illuminated mirrors. The futuristic composition reflects the polar lights in the summer months, and in winter a network of 200 fiber-optic cables colors the seed vault in a muted greenish turquoise and white. The color shimmers and the play of light, which is only intensified by the snow lying around, make the building interesting to view near and far, at different times of the day and of the year. The object symbolizes the diversity of life, which is hidden in the vault and is reflected to the world through a large prism.

Dyveke Sanne is the designer and artist who had a hand in creating the project

“The interior of the seed vault is protected from prying eyes. Even so, its contents reflect a certain significance and complexity that affects us. The very fact that the World Seed Vault exists reminds us of our own position in the world, our relationship to the state and the Earth. The seeds are ripe for the future. They are copies of bio-diversity that need regular cyclical care, not a firm belief in a new linear progression. The mirrored surfaces do not reveal any objects that may lie behind them–they only copy what they receive and throw it back. Standing close enough, you can see yourself in the reflection; stand farther away and you become part of the landscape, or you just have your eyes scattered by the reflected light. Even so, the reflections form oppositions and displacements that change depending on the observer’s location.”

Daivek Sunn

Tourist Information

The Doomsday Vault belongs to the number of attractions that are more pleasant to read about while sitting in front of a computer than to observe them with your own eyes. The difficult climate with above zero temperatures only in July and August, an abundance of short-term precipitation, sharp gusts of wind, frequent fog – a good reason not to walk around the island in favor of a virtual trip. There is another reason: access to the strategic reserves is open only to scientists who have received special permission from their government. The press was, of course, invited to the opening, but since then the contents of the facility have been of interest mainly to geneticists and breeders. No one is forbidden to look at the entrance to the vault from the outside, but the sight will not be very educational: a small bridge will lead visitors from the compact parking lot to the massive doors at the base of a narrow gray rectangle going straight into the rock. The mundanity of the landscape is brightened during Polar Night, when ice crystals sparkle at the top of the entrance.

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Svalbard Global Seed Vault Seed containers Seed packets

How to get to the site

Formally, the Doomsday Vault is located on the territory of the town of Longyear. This modest village with rows of brightly colored houses and only 2,000 inhabitants is the official capital of the archipelago. In fact, the site is built about a kilometer south of the local airport runway, and the nearest housing from here is another 3 kilometers to the east. Domestic tourists can go to Spitsbergen without a visa, if somehow get on a flight carrying commuters from Russia. Other travelers prefer to come here by plane from the largest cities in Norway – Oslo and Tromsø. In recent decades, popular are summer cruises along the coasts of the northern part of the country. Another way to enjoy the full benefits of the archipelago is to attend the Svalbard International University, located right in Longyear. Here they train specialists in biology, geology, Arctic geophysics and engineers working in the High North. The program of studies is distinguished by the abundance of hours of field practice in extreme conditions, requiring from the students outstanding health.

Warehouse and its surroundings Beware of polar bears!

Svalbard travel precautions

The lack of people on the island is more than compensated for by the abundance of polar bears, which are not afraid to enter the camps and tourist camps. The natives go out for walks with guns, the first classes of university students begin with the shooting training. If a bear is spotted in sight, the man must as quickly as possible to leave the danger zone, sometimes helicopters are sent to help potential victims. In the case of an immediate threat to life, it is allowed to kill predators, but then the governor of Spitsbergen will personally investigate the incident, determining whether the limits of necessary self-defense are not exceeded. Those who are not intimidated by the frost, the animals, or the paucity of architectural impressions from a visit to the Doomsday Storehouse will have an unforgettable experience of the rugged northern landscape. Cliffs descending to the water, snow caps on the opposite shore of Adventfjord, giving way to rare grasses only in summer, the calm sea and cheerful houses of all colors of the rainbow – such will remain in the memory of travelers who climbed the mountain to the entrance to the repository, Svalbard.

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The doomsday bunker in Norway will now store not only seeds but also data

Earlier this year, the hands of the Doomsday Clock, whose movement reflects the level of danger of nuclear war and other threats, moved 30 seconds forward. In explaining their decision, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists made the following statement: “The likelihood of a worldwide catastrophe is extremely high, so measures that will ensure risk reduction must be taken as soon as possible. Heads of state must act now to save humanity from falling into the abyss. If they do nothing, citizens must take action.

Some citizens are already taking these measures, only in this case we are not talking about actions against nuclear war, but about measures taken to preserve especially important values for those who would survive a possible cataclysm. We are now talking about the “Doomsday Vault” (Svalbard Globale frøhvelv), which is located on the island of Svalbard. It holds seed samples of major crops for safe storage. And now the project team is going to store the most important data for humans there as well. There are already more than 1.5 million seeds in the storage, and in the near future there will be millions and billions of bytes of information. Small Norwegian company Piql is engaged in data archiving and transportation to Spitsbergen. Its representatives proposed to use not usual data carriers like laser disks, but a special film, which can remain unchanged for hundreds of years. The film, wound on reels, will not be stored openly, but in special boxes, in turn, protected from the influence of external factors.

This medium will be preserved for such a long time due to the peculiarities of the storage facility itself. It is located at a depth of 120 meters at an altitude of 130 meters above sea level in the village of Longyear. The entrance is equipped with explosion-proof doors and airlocks. Preservation of materials is ensured by refrigeration units that can run on local coal, plus permafrost. The refrigeration units maintain temperatures at -18 degrees Celsius. Even if they fail, the temperature will only rise by a few degrees.

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As for the medium, the film, in this storage facility it will be protected from the effects of a nuclear attack thanks to the great depth of storage. By the way, about 42 countries have signed a treaty establishing a demilitarized zone in this region, so there are no nuclear and other weapons on the island. In addition, the entire archive is not connected to anything, you can get to the tapes only physically.

The information on the medium developed by Piql can be written only once. After that it can only be read without the possibility to change it. In this way, according to the developers, the data is safe from possible attempts to erase the information or overwrite anything.

Three countries have already started sending data which the representatives of these states deem important. They are Norway, Mexico and Brazil. Among other data, states are transferring crucial documents from national archives to tape. “By doing this now, we ensure that the next generations will be able to access this information,” said Ricardo Marques, head of the National Archives of Brazil.

The representative of the National Archives of Mexico agrees with him: “I’m sure we have to preserve the memory of our country on an Arctic island.”

Data is not only preserved in case of a global cataclysm. The fact is that some events are always possible in a particular country or region, which can lead to damage or destruction of the most important archival documents. Local conflicts, floods, earthquakes – these are only some of the external factors that pose a danger to critical information of national interest of individual countries.

Piql was founded in 2002. Initially, it provided devices for watching digital movies in theaters with analog equipment. Then, using its own funds and support from the EU and the Norwegian organization Innovation Way, the company began researching digital storage. Representatives of the company believe that special film can be a more reliable medium than hard drives or anything else. The film withstood a test simulating the conditions of 500 years of wear and tear using high temperatures.

Developers are confident the film is capable of keeping the data recorded on it unchanged for a longer period – up to 1,000 years. Additional tests will be conducted soon to verify this assumption.

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