Svalbard Global Seed Vault

A sheltered passageway between business and society

A sheltered passageway between business and society

TYPE Underground commons
STATUS Ongoing
KEYWORDS Climate, Pedestrian Network, Retail, Underground Infrastructure
PERIOD 1962 - today (2020)
USE Sheltered passageway with retail opportunities, office spaces and housing units
COMMONERS Everyday commuters, shopping customers, Tourists. Canadian National Railway Company (CN), supported by the local government. Private companies and developers owning the underground terrain.
INSTITUTIONS Government of Norway, Global Crop Diversity Trust, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research,
REGULATORS Collaborations between the different companies providing under-ground space, the government of Montreal and the Canadian Na-tional Railway Company (CN)
Manuel Büchel

Since its opening in 2008, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault functions as a backup storage facility, providing a safety net for international conservation of plant genetic resources. It is one of over 1’700 gene banks of food crops worldwide, many of which are vulnerable to natural catastrophes and wars, as well as challenges such as lack of funding and poor management.

The seed vault can be classified as a global ‘knowledge commons’. It stores the history of over 15’000 years of agriculture. The res communis (common resource) in this case are the vault and the seed samples stored within it. These resources are only accessible to the respective depositors, as described in the terms and conditions, or lex communis (common codes). The depositors, represented by 87 different international institutions, are the commoners involved in the praxis communis (commoning practices): producing and collecting seed samples, packaging and depositing in the vault, and retrieving in times of need. Depositors are usually departments of agriculture or federal research centers.

The management, operation, and long-term funding are governed through an agreement between the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Agriculture and Food, The Global Crop Diversity Trust, and the Nordic Genetic Resource Centre.
The construction costs of 8.8 million dollars were entirely funded by the Norwegian Government. The vault’s daily operation is financed through a joint agreement between Norway and the Crop Trust. In 2018, the yearly maintenance costs were estimated at around 310’000 dollars.

The vault is housed inside a bunker, 130 meters deep in the mountain. Thought to be surrounded by permafrost, the location should have ensured that the seed samples remain frozen even without power. Yet, in 2016, the bunker suffered a water leak due to record temperatures linked to global change. Since then, the building has been renovated to ensure safe-keeping of the seeds for many years to come.


Asdal Asmund, Guarino Luigi. ‘The Svalbard Global Seed Vault: 10 Years – 1 Million Samples‘. Biopreservation and Biobanking. Volume 16. Issue 5. Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. . 12.10.2018

Marte Qvenild (2008) Svalbard Global Seed Vault: a ‘Noah’s Ark’ for the world’s seeds, Development in Practice, 18:1, 110-116, DOI: 10.1080/09614520701778934 . 21.01.2008.

Westengen, O.T., Lusty, C., Yazbek, M. et al. Safeguarding a global seed heritage from Syria to Svalbard. Nat. Plants 6, 1311–1317. 09.11.2020).


Image 1
Genebanks with safety deposits in the Svalbard Global Seed

Global Ex-Situ Crop Diversity Conservation and the Svalbard Global Seed Vault: Assessing the Current Status by Ola T Westengen, Jeppson Simon, Luigi Guarino

Image 2 
Entrance to the seed vault

Bioversity International:

Image 3 –
Inside the vault

Wikimedia Commons: Svalbard Global Seed Vault, inside the vault

Image 4 – 
Mock-up of Seed Vault

Time: Inside the ‘doomsday’ vault