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  • So this is like the world's most important freezer?

  • It is. Really. *laughs*

  • The most important room in the world, someone has said.

  • These are pretty big claims for a place located

  • just 1300 km, or 800 miles

  • from the north pole.

  • But then, this is no ordinary place.

  • It's the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.

  • Well, actually, this is just it's front door.

  • Inside the seed vault are a series of tunnels.

  • It's not actually that cold right here, but

  • as we go deeper, it is only going to get colder.

  • This is Bente

  • You're an engineer, Bente?

  • Yes, I am

  • Are you gonna show us where to go?

  • *chuckles* Yeah

  • Fantastic

  • How many doors are there?

  • One, two, three, four, five doors

  • until we are into the secret room.

  • Five doors to the secret room

  • Woah.

  • That's what I'm talking about.

  • These are the lenghts of tunnel that take you down

  • into the seed vault.

  • This facility was built to last around 200 years

  • and withstand earthquakes and explosions.

  • It was placed on the side of a mountain

  • so even if all the ice on earth melts

  • it will still be above sea level.

  • There are three separate vault rooms where seeds are stored

  • but only one of them is in use right now.

  • And it's buried over 120 meters from the front door.

  • The whole point of putting the vaults so deep in this mountain

  • is to put it within permafrost.

  • So, all around me, the earth naturally stays

  • around -4 or -5 all year round.

  • And, that way, if something did happen

  • and the cooling stopped flowing here, there was no power.

  • Then, well, behind these doors

  • it would still remain probably, you know,

  • -4 or -5 Celsius, forever.

  • Assuming, of course, global temperatures don't rise that much.

  • This place is sometimes called "The Doomsday Vault",

  • because even in a worst case scenario

  • it should preserve the diversity of the world's food crops.

  • Now we are really in the mountain.

  • Surrounded by permafrost.

  • And, here's a cross tunnel

  • that leads to three vault doors.

  • Vault number 1 is up there

  • Vault number 2,

  • and this is the one that is actually being used.

  • And then, vault number 3.

  • It's pretty amazing to look up and see

  • ice covered ceilings and walls everywhere.

  • The Svalbard Global Seed Vault works essentially like a bank vault?

  • Yes, it's almost, yeah, because

  • the seeds lay in the boxes like this.

  • These boxes are sealed when they come to Svalbard.

  • And none of us can open it

  • We put it through the security system at the airports

  • just to check that it isn't any explosives or anything in it.

  • But it works like a bank box.

  • We can't open this.

  • Only the depositor can open and take out their seeds

  • So you don't open any of the seeds, any of the boxes that come here?

  • No.

  • Well. How do you know that people are really depositing the seeds,

  • like barely they say they are not, and other things?

  • Just because they have signed the contract. That's it.

  • We can't be sure about it. Of course, we trust them.

  • Would there be seeds for some crops that

  • people might consider illicit, like marijuana

  • That is said that that shall not be in here.

  • No drugs and also no gene-modified material

  • No genetically modified seeds go in here?

  • Yeah, Norway has asked for that no genetical material is kept in here.

  • Are there any particularity strange crops?

  • Has anyone deposited anything that is really odd or weird?

  • Ahhh.. No, nothing weird is in here,

  • but we get some questions from people that wants to put in their own private seeds.

  • I've also has had letters from men wanting to put their gene material in here.

  • That is really strange and we don't answer those.

  • This is the door to the vault and behind here, there are nearly a million different varieties of seeds,

  • from all over the world,

  • kept at minus 18 degrees Celsius.

  • You know how I can tell that it's minus 18°C in here?

  • You can actually feel the moisture in your nose freeze so,

  • Your nostrils get all stiff...

  • Yeah,

  • And I see behind you we have some Canadian seeds,

  • which is exciting for me because I am Canadian.

  • So what sort of things do we have... From Canada,

  • I'm really not... Not sure because... This box... On the outside doesn't tell what's in it,

  • but,

  • These numbers here are connected to a database on the internet so you can go in there afterwards.

  • Derek: There you go. Bente: Yeah

  • You can go find out what has Canada got stored in the Seed Vault.

  • What are we looking at right here.

  • It's like a bank vault except everything that you've put in there is publicly available.

  • Yeah, it is. (chuckles)

  • These are the coolest boxes I think. They are from North Korea.

  • Derek: Oh my goodness! Bente: Wooden hand made boxes

  • Derek: They look like they come from the 1960s or something. Do you think?

  • Bente: Yeah, they do.

  • Derek: They built them specially.

  • Bente: They built them specially because they got the measurements of how big should the boxes be

  • and these are built exactly of those measurements.

  • And here you see that North Korea is placed on the same shelf as USA, it's just on the back there.

  • It's on the back side.

  • And you have South Korea, just on the back.

  • So here there are like in a small United Nations, deep in the mountains of Svalbard.

  • (Chuckles)

  • So these are the last few bare shelves in Vault 2.

  • Once the other two vaults are full, there will be around 3 million different species of plants stored here

  • with over 500 seeds per sample.

  • So one day, there may be over a billion seeds stored inside this mountain,

  • representing the vast majority of Earth's agricultural diversity.

  • And you don't know today what kind of seeds that you can grow in 20, 30, 40 years from now,

  • because of the climate change.

  • Perhaps you have to use another type of seed

  • thirty years from now that can handle warmer climate, dryer climate, wetter climate,

  • whatever is going to happen.

  • So that is why it's so important to have a backup of all the seeds

  • so that you are sure that you can also grow the food we need,

  • for the next generations to come.

  • But this isn't the only seed bank on Earth.

  • There are around 1700 other gene banks around the world,

  • run by different countries and organizations.

  • And, at a cost of $9 million to build the Svalbard seed vault

  • and millions more to run it,

  • it's worth asking whether this is a costly redundancy, or a valuable insurance policy.

  • And perhaps, the best people to answer this question are the Syrians, who, last year, were the first

  • to make a withdrawal from the seed vault.

  • The gene bank in Aleppo, in Syria, is now out of order, it's been bombed.

  • So one third of the material that is kept in here is now taken down to Morocco and Lebanon.

  • And this is some of the material that now has been returned, so to get the material going again.

  • So that's why it's empty.

  • Will those seeds actually be used to grow crops?

  • Yeah, they will. Yeah.

  • Over the last 13 thousand years we have cultivated millions of species of plants.

  • The agricultural revolution underpinned the technological and population explosions

  • that made our modern lives possible.

  • The risk of a real Doomsday scenario is incredibly remote.

  • But, whatever happens, thanks to this outpost at the top of the world

  • at least our seeds are safe.

  • Hey, I'm currently on a train traveling from Washington, D.C. to New York City so I can't talk to loud.

  • And actually after Norway, I went to Seoul, South Korea, Los Angeles, Boston , New York and Washington,

  • so it's been some crazy travels for me.

  • And on all these travels I've been listening to audio books from Audible

  • who also support Veritasium which I am very thankful for.

  • If you didn't know already, Audible has like 250,000 titles in all areas of literature,

  • including fiction, non-fiction and periodicals.

  • And if you go to Audible.com/veritasium you can get a 30 day free trial of the website

  • where you can just try out listening to a book.

  • So if you are at all interested in listening to audio books, I highly recommend you check them out.

  • And there is a book I can recommend to you, it is my favorite fiction book of all time.

  • It's called "Everything is Illuminated" by Jonathon Safran Foer.

  • It is- I don't know, its just such a complex interwoven novel, you have to

  • read it or listen to it to know what i mean.

  • But you can check it out. You can download that book for free for a one month trial

  • or you can pick any other book of your choosing.

  • So, I really want to thank Audible for supporting me and helping me go to all these amazing places.

  • And I want to thank you for watching.

So this is like the world's most important freezer?

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Inside the Svalbard Seed Vault

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    wmh posted on 2016/05/27
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