War in Syria Prompts Premature Opening of Arctic “Doomsday” Seed Vault
Situated on a frozen archipelago just about as far north as north goes is the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a long-term underground storage facility for seed samples from around the world. There, seeds are kept cold and dry so that, if disaster strikes, national crop gene banks anywhere in the world can take what they need. Seven short years after its opening, the vault already has a request for a withdrawal due to the devastation caused by the Syrian War.
Built in 2008 by the Norwegian government, the facility—the largest of its kind in the world—holds around 860,000 samples of seeds from 4,000 species, which it can keep dry for 200 years without electricity. According to Reuters, researchers with The International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) in the Middle East have asked that Syria's deposited seeds be withdrawn. Once headquartered just outside of Aleppo, Syria's capital city, ICARDA was forced to relocate to various locations across the region in 2012 for safety reasons.
The researchers have asked to withdraw nearly a third of the 325 boxes of seeds they had deposited, a request that has since been approved and will soon be fulfilled. The report does not specify the reason why the organization decided to make an early withdrawal, but, as Reuters notes, the samples deposited by ICARDA boast drought-resistant properties—a useful characteristic for growing, or re-growing, crops in Syria, the Middle East, and beyond.