The operation is funded by the Global Crop Diversity Trust, which was founded by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and Biodiversity International, a Rome-based research group.
"Crop diversity will soon prove to be our most potent and indispensable resource for addressing climate change, water, and energy supply constraints, and for meeting the food needs of a growing population," said Cary Fowler, head of the Global Crop Diversity Trust.
Svalbard is cold, but giant air conditioning units have chilled the vault further to -0.4 Fahrenheit (-18 Celsius), a temperature at which experts say many seeds could last for a thousand years.
Stoltenberg and Maathai delivered the first box of seeds to the vault during the opening ceremony—a container of rice seeds from 104 countries.
Carrots to Wheat
"This is unique. This is very visionary. It is a precaution for the future," Maathai, a Crop Diversity Trust board member, told the Associated Press after the ceremony.
The seeds are packed in silvery foil containers—as many as 500 in each sample—and placed on blue and orange metal shelves inside three 32-foot-by-88-foot (10-meter-by-28-meter) storage chambers. Each vault can hold 1.5 million sample packages of all types of crop seeds, from carrots to wheat.
Construction leader Magnus Bredeli-Tveiten said the vault is designed to withstand earthquakes—successfully tested by a 6.2 magnitude temblor off Svalbard last week—and even a direct nuclear strike.
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