“Arks” to save human heritage

Why do Norwegians create Doomsday Vaults in the Arctic.

On March 28, 2017, Norway opened the “Arctic World Archive” on the Svalbard archipelago. It is designed for long-term storage of backup data in case their originals are damaged due to wars and acts of nature. As conceived by the creators of the project, all important documents, books and films will be recorded on special films that will be stored in a protected bunker in the Arctic.

The project was immediately called the second “Doomsday Vault”: since 2008 it has been called the “World Seed Vault”, erected on the same archipelago. It stores plant samples in case some varieties are destroyed. At the same time, over several years of the shelter’s operation, it turned out that the main threat to the seeds is not a possible Apocalypse, but people.

The last frontier in the Arctic

For many years, scientists have warned of a sharp decline in biological diversity on Earth, focusing on plants used in food. Reducing their varieties threatens food resources: according to National Geographic, over the 20th century the planet has lost more than half of the global variety of products due to various factors.

In 2004, the Executive Director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, Dr. Cary Fowler, came up with a special safe shelter project that held rare-seed samples around the world. This would help protect them from natural disasters, wars and global warming. Fowler began working with the UN to create a bunker with which humanity will save cultures from extinction.

There are more than 1,400 seed banks in the world that are also trying to preserve the diversity of species on the planet. However, the main problem of such centers is that they are unsafe: seed samples are stored in ordinary buildings and laboratories. In recent years, banks in Afghanistan and Iraq were destroyed due to wars, and in 2006 a typhoon destroyed a vault in the Philippines. Therefore, scientists needed the “last option” in case all other repositories disappear.

The construction of the Doomsday Vault began in 2006: by this time it was supported by more than 100 countries. The prime minister of Norway, Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Sweden laid the foundation stone for a future seed shelter. The creators of the project said that the building will be “the safest in the world” and will become the new “Noah’s Ark.”

They decided to build a new seed bank on the Norwegian part of the Svalbard (or Svalbard) polar archipelago. The place was chosen for several reasons, the main one of which is the climate. The temperature on the archipelago never rose above 3.5 degrees Celsius. The builders took into account possible global warming: the storehouse is located on a hill and deep in the mountain, so changes in ocean level or melted Arctic ice will not affect the work of the “ark”.

Another factor was the small tectonic activity in the Spitsbergen area. Compared to other places remote from civilization on the archipelago, the infrastructure is well developed – there are several settlements provided with everything necessary. The status of Svalbard also influenced: formally it belongs to Norway, but more than 50 states have an equal right to exploit the natural resources of the archipelago and its territorial waters

The construction costs of the Doomsday Store were borne by Norway, investing $ 9 million in the project. At the same time, it is not only she who makes the key decisions about the work of the shelter – the countries connected to the collection of seeds have their own voice. The very structure of the storehouse is comparable to the structure of the bank: project participants receive at their disposal “cells” where their seeds will be stored.

“Backup of the Earth”

Companies that helped Norway with financing joined the construction. Many agro-industrial companies and non-governmental organizations, including the funds of Bill Gates and Rockefeller, have invested in the development of Noah’s Ark.

During the construction of the building , a conspiracy theory appeared , according to which the “shelter” is built not just in case, but because governments and project sponsors are aware of the upcoming end of the world. However, Carey Fowler emphasized that the goal of the shelter was to save seeds from more “mundane” threats, and not just from the Apocalypse. According to him, plants are more harmful to people who destroy varieties through wars and through their own stupidity.

I heard theories that we are going to populate half of Norway in a refuge, wait out the end of the world there, and then again populate the planet. Half the country’s population. This is 2.5 million people. And we have only one toilet in the bunker.

Carey Fowler, Scientist

The building was completed in 2008. The doomsday storehouse was based on a rock mine, and the entrance was equipped with steel gates and walls that could withstand a nuclear warhead. Outside the building is guarded by cameras and motion sensors, and polar bears walk around. The building itself goes 120 meters deep into the mountains.

With the help of special refrigeration units, the shelter maintains a temperature of about –18 degrees. Even if due to technical failures they stop working, it will take a long time before it rises (and even then it will not exceed 3.5 degrees). The construction consists of a long corridor with spacious halls, which contain seed samples.

Seeds are packed in special foil containers, 500 seeds in each copy. They are placed in boxes and laid out in “cells” belonging to the countries participating in the project. According to the creators, in such conditions, copies can be stored for more than a thousand years. In total, backup storage can hold up to 4.5 million varieties. This will help restore basic edible plants if they are completely destroyed.

First need

In the first year, the project participants placed in the “Doomsday Storage” about 90 thousand “spare” seed copies in case of local or global catastrophes. By 2017, their number has almost reached a million, while most of them are various varieties of rice and wheat. However, not all of them remained in the Arctic until the end of the world.

The creators of the building at the opening of the shelter hoped that it “will never have to use.” But already in 2015, the storage facility had to be printed and extracted for the first time. Syrian researchers who participated in the project asked to give them some varieties of seeds suitable for cultivation in arid climates – because of the war, their bank of crops was partially destroyed.

In the warehouse for the case of the Apocalypse, other problems arose during the work. According to The Guardian, despite the fact that the idea was to unite countries before the threat of global catastrophes, some states are in no hurry to join the project. China and Japan only promised to become participants, Italy for seven years provided only two samples, and developing countries give each time less and less copies of seeds. This is due to the fact that Norway has ceased to pay for the transportation of crops to Svalbard.

Russia joined the Doomsday Vault project from the first day of opening. Employees of the St. Petersburg Institute of Plant Production sent their samples to the Norwegians . According to them, especially valuable specimens should be stored in several places at once just in case.

Some specimens such as bananas or apples cannot be stored in shelter in Svalbard. Norwegians were also criticized for simply storing all the samples without any research. However, the creators emphasized that they are just a bank.

Despite this , several dozen scientists are constantly working on the project . They all live in Longyearbyen and monitor the condition of refrigeration systems and seeds. There is no security at the vault – employees noted that for seven years no one had tried to enter the shelter.

It is impossible to imagine that someone will try to penetrate the Arctic archipelago for the sake of seeds.

The main danger is represented by polar bears, which are very numerous on Svalbard. All employees undergo compulsory training, during which they learn to handle firearms. Some of them come to the archipelago for temporary business trips, but some workers have been living there for several years.

Return to the film

In March 2017, Norway announced the construction of a second Doomsday Vault in the Arctic. This time, the creators of the project decided to create a digital data library that would have survived after the global cataclysms. The technology company Piql has gathered to put valuable books, documents, works of art and films there.

The shelter was built near the World Seed Store, using an abandoned coal mine as a base. The project was called the Arctic World Archive, but the media continued to call it the second Doomsday Vault.

Piql called on governments around the world to send asylum information that could be important for restoring their culture. It is already known that organizations from Brazil and Mexico provided their documents: they included samples of the Constitution, important treaties, and information from national archives. The head of the Mexican archive, Erick Kardoso (Erick Kardoso) said that this is the best way to save the “memory” of world culture.

“It is an amazing feeling to realize that the memory of my nation will be preserved for future generations.”

The company promised that the data can be stored in the shelter for up to a thousand years. According to the creators, this will save the world if something destroys both digital and analog media. Piql representatives emphasized that they can save “any kind” of data.

To do this, experts transfer digital information to analog media. The company uses a special photosensitive film on which the necessary data is recorded. According to workers, the process resembles “turning information into huge QR codes.”

At Piql, they promised an “ultra-defense” against all possible threats, including a nuclear attack: the building is as safe as Doomsday Storage. Data will be stored at 0 degrees in fortified containers. Countries were able to send documents there for a short time for protection, but the Norwegians did not build a shelter for this. Their goal is to preserve the memory of civilizations in the event of the destruction of digital and physical media outside the bunker.

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