It's been dubbed a "Noah's Ark" for plant life and built to withstand an earthquake or a nuclear attack.
Dug deep into the permafrost of a remote Arctic mountain, the "doomsday" vault (see photos) is designed by Norway to protect the world's seeds from global catastrophe.
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a backup to the world's 1,400 other seed banks, was to be officially inaugurated in a ceremony Tuesday on the northern rim of civilization attended by about 150 guests from 33 countries.
The frozen vault has the capacity to store 4.5 million seed samples from around the globe, shielding them from climate change, war, natural disasters, and other threats.
(See related story: "Doomsday" Vault Will End Crop Extinction, Expert Says [December 27, 2007])
"There are not many countries in the world [that] could have pulled this off," said Cary Fowler, executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, a partner in the project.
Norway's government owns the vault in Svalbard, a frigid archipelago 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) from the North Pole. (See map of Norway.)
Other countries can deposit seeds for free and reserve the right to withdraw them upon need.
The operation is financed 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.
European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai of Kenya, a Crop Diversity Trust board member, and Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg planned to attend the opening ceremony 425 feet (130 meters) deep inside Plataaberget mountain.
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