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Norwegian Seed Vault Guarantees Crops Won't Become Extinct


Burrowed into the side of a mountain on a Norwegian island deep in the Arctic is the Global Seed Vault, a small building where vital seed varieties are kept in a deep freeze year-round. The idea of the seed vault is to provide a backup in case certain crops go extinct.

CARY FOWLER: We've made a tunnel inside of a mountain to where it's very cold. And we're storing seeds that can be used in the future for plant breeding efforts to keep our agricultural systems adapted to whatever comes.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Cary Fowler, one of the creators of the vault. A report in The Guardian newspaper alleged the vault, which could ensure humanity's food supply in case of a catastrophe, had been breached. It wrote (reading) global warming produced extraordinary temperatures over the winter, sending meltwater gushing into the entrance tunnel.

The vault was supposed to operate without human intervention, but now the government of Norway, which owns the vault, is undertaking work to secure it, waterproofing the tunnel which leads to the seed chamber. Fowler says, though, there is no cause to worry for now.

FOWLER: There was really no flood. There are seasons up there. And every year when the snow melts on the mountain, we get some water coming in at the very top of the tunnel. And of course, we know this is going to happen. It's happened every year we've had the seed vault open - that's been about nine years. But very often, the water simply freezes because it's very cold down there, so it never gets anywhere close to the seeds.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But he says the Earth is warming, and that is affecting all of us, including the seed vault.

FOWLER: Absolutely, there is global warming. The data on that is overwhelming. And part of the reason for establishing the seed vault is to help prepare agriculture for that very thing. So yes, global warming is quite real. Yes, we'll adjust to it. We have a lot of time to do that, and we're making improvements along the way.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So the seed vault may be fine, but we may not be.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro
Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.