Visit our slideshow of images of the vault 

More than 268,000 samples containing about 100m seeds from almost every country of the world have been deposited in the new Svalbard Global Seed Vault inside the Arctic Circle.

Dignitaries, scientists and journalists gathered at the site, deep inside an Arctic mountain, on Tuesday (26 February) to witness the official opening of the £5m (NOK50m) investment.

Funded by the Norwegian government and supported by the Global Crop Diversity Trust, the seed vault consists of three enormous caverns blasted 125m into the permafrost on the island of Spitzbergen, some 1000km north of the Norwegian mainland.

The vault will house and protect virtually every variety of almost every important food crop in the world. At full capacity, it could contain 4.5 million samples – or some 2bn seeds.

The first seeds were placed in the high security vault by Norway’s prime minister Jen Stoltenberg. “With climate change threatening the diversity of life that sustains our planet, we are proud to create a facility capable of protecting what are not just seeds, but the building blocks of human civilisation.”

Global Crop Diversity Trust director Cary Fowler added: “Crop diversity will soon prove to be our most potent and indispensable resource for addressing climate change, water and energy supply constraints.”

In the event of a natural or manmade catastrophe, the vault would enable civilisation to restart agriculture.

This week, some 70,000 different varieties of rice from a seed bank in the Philippines were deposited, together with 47,000 samples of wheat from Mexico, 30,000 samples of beans from Columbia and several thousand seed potatoes from Peru.

The vault has been designed to run at a constant -18 degrees celcius. The permafrost covering reduces the costs of powering the refrigeration units and provides protection in the event of mechanical breakdown.

seed bank graphic

For seed bank images, click here