Seed Vault Operations
All gene banks holding sustainable seed collections are invited to deposit duplicates of their seeds in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. The deposits are made in accordance with the depositor agreement between the depositing institution and the Norwegian Ministry of Agriculture and Food. Seeds are deposited free of charge, under so called “black box conditions”. This means that any seed boxes and containers stored in the Seed Vault will not be opened. The seeds are indisputably owned by the depositing gene bank, and only that gene bank can request return of seeds stored in the Seed Vault.
The Nordic Genetic Resources Centre (NordGen) manages the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. In this role, it liaises with the gene banks that wish to take advantage of the long-term secure conservation that the Seed Vault offers their seed collections, and advises on the required steps for depositing those seeds. This includes approving the material to be deposited, establishing the timetable and process for the deposit, providing guidance for the appropriate packaging, labelling and documentation of the material to be deposited, and facilitating shipment of seeds to Svalbard and the shipment’s subsequent signing in to the Seed Vault.
Shipping and security
Seeds are usually shipped to Svalbard by air freight, although sea transport can be used for larger shipments. Depositors ship seeds to coincide with pre-announced Seed Vault opening dates. Once the air shipments arrive at Oslo Airport, NordGen’s logistics partner, Jetpak, handles the shipment’s final transport to the town of Longyearbyen, where the Seed Vault is located. For security, all seed boxes are scanned to ensure that no items other than seed pouches enter the Seed Vault. The Seed Vault receives seeds three times a year, although it can set up special openings when situations call for it.
The dried seeds destined for storage in the Seed Vault are packed in specially designed airtight aluminum pouches. For shipment to Svalbard and for storage in the Seed Vault, the pouches are packed in standard 60x40x28 cm boxes, appropriate for the Seed Vault’s shelves. The boxes are made of plastic, wallboard or wood, and numbered and labeled with names of depositors as well as their shelf position. All the information is uploaded to the Seed Portal, which is the NordGen-managed database.
Statsbygg, the public sector administration enterprise responsible for government buildings, has a permanent office in Svalbard. It has established surveillance and monitoring systems with which it continuously oversees the Seed Vault facility, making sure that the seeds are kept safe, dry and cold at a stable temperature of minus 18°C.
Monitoring of seed viability and regeneration schedules remain the responsibility of the depositor. This is feasible because the seeds deposited in the Seed Vault originated from the same lots as regular gene bank stock which can be monitored by the gene bank. Thus, because the storing conditions in Svalbard are equal to or better than storage conditions in most gene banks, the results of gene bank monitoring will mirror the conditions that would be found in the seeds stored in the Seed Vault.