Norway’s New Crop Diversity: Svalbard Global Seed Vault
Is Svalbard worth visiting? In a word, yes! Svalbard has fascinated travelers for a long time. The Norwegian archipelago lies just below the North Pole and is one of the world’s northernmost inhabited areas with almost 3,000 human residents. In Svalbard you will also find a fascinating building; The Svalbard Global Seed Vault.
Known for its rugged and remote terrain of glaciers and frozen tundra sheltering polar bears, Svalbard reindeer, Arctic foxes, and other arctic animals, Svalbard is a must-see. The Northern Lights are visible during winter, and summer brings the "midnight sun"—sunlight 24 hours a day.
Historically, both whaling and trapping have been major activities in the archipelago, but now sustainability is the guiding principle in every way: Nearly two-thirds of the surface of Svalbard is protected and consists of several nature reserves, national parks, bird sanctuaries, and even a geotopical protected area.
What is Svalbard Global Seed Vault?
In addition to a few thousand polar bears, the islands are home to Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Set in the permafrost and thick rock 100 meters below the surface in the Platåberget mountain, near Longyearbyen, the Vault is the ultimate insurance policy for the world’s food supply. It will secure, for centuries, millions of seeds representing every important crop variety available in the world today. It is the final back up in the event of a world-threatening disaster.
Read more about the Seed Vault here.
Seed vault facts
The plant can accommodate 4.5 million seed samples. At its opening in 2008, the seed bank contained 278,000 seed samples of mostly rice and wheat. In September 2009, the stock had increased to 423,899 seed types from 219 different contributing countries. In 2015, the figure had reached 860,000 seed samples.
The stable geology and low humidity create the ultimate fail-safe freezer storage facility. A temperature of -18ºC is required for optimal storage of the seeds, which are stored and sealed in custom made three-ply foil packages. The packages are sealed inside boxes and stored on shelves inside the vault. The low temperature and moisture levels inside the Vault ensure low metabolic activity, keeping the seeds viable for long periods of time.
Can you visit the seed vault?
Although you can hike and bike to catch a glimpse of The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, the vault itself is only open to tourists via an exciting virtual reality tour. Check it out here!
What else is there to do on Svalbard?
Despite its remoteness, Svalbard has a surprisingly varied and colorful cultural scene. You can visit museums and art galleries, disused mines and even enjoy a brewery tour. Believe it or not, Svalbard is even hosting some music concerts and arts festivals. You should also enjoy tasting the local arctic cuisine.
We already mentioned the abundant arctic nature and while at Svalbard you can also book yourself on a whale or polar bear safari, bird watching trips, dog-sledding, or snow-mobile adventures.
How do I get to Svalbard?
There are daily flights to and from Svalbard throughout the year from mainland Norway, with the frequency increasing during summer months. Flight time is around 3 hours from Oslo International Airport (Gardemoen) and approximately 2 hours from Tromsø.
An airport shuttle service is available for all scheduled flights and takes you to most hotels and guest houses for a fee. Unfortunately, there is no regular boat transportation between the Norwegian mainland and Svalbard.
Several companies offer Svalbard safaris and round trips, but these do not offer passage to and from the mainland. You have to make your way to Svalbard through other means.
Once on the Island Longyearbyen Taxi and Svalbard Bus and Taxi are at your service 24/7. During the Polar Summer, you can hire bicycles at the Tourist Information Centre, while Arctic Autorent at the airport is the town's car rental. There are only about 46 kilometers of road on the Svalbard Islands. Driving off-road is strictly prohibited.
There are no roads between the various settlements. Instead, locals use boats in summer and snowmobiles in winter. Snowmobiles can also be rented in Longyearbyen.