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Arctic seeds of future renewal

By Tom Clarke

Updated on 31 August 2007

A gigantic vault under the Svalbard permafrost aims to house and preserve every known variety of seed.

It is ironic that in a world at serious risk from global warming, it is in the place most at risk that a huge project has been set up to save millions of plants and crops from being wiped out.

Deep below the Arctic permafrost, in Svalbard, a gigantic vault has been constructed to house every known variety of seed. Channel 4 News went to visit the doomsday vault.

They will become home to millions of seeds, representing every known variety of crop.

Dag Rindal Brox, project manager for Global Feed Bank, said: "It is permafrost here so you can store the seeds in -4C. The temperature will never rise above that.

Space in the seed bank is at a premium - there are 100,000 varieties of rice alone.

"The island is neutral and everybody has to come by plane or boat, so you know every person who comes here."

The seed bank will open in February 2008 and will help to preserve the planet's bio-diversity.

Each vault can store 1.5 million different seeds, but space is at a premium as there are 100,000 varieties of rice alone.

There are signs the plants that grow above the surface on Svalbard may struggle to adapt to climate change.

The Arctic tundra acts as a break because its plants absorb caron dioxide from the atmosphere.

But the danger is that the soils may soon release that carbon, speeding the world towards a warmer future.

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