Doomsday vault: first tree samples arrive at underground, frozen seed store

The Svalbard depository looks after plant samples to conserve them

The “doomsday” vault built into an Arctic mountain, which stores seeds for food crops in case of a natural disaster, has received its first delivery of tree samples.

Norway spruce and Scots pine seeds have arrived at the frozen vault, which is located on Svalbard, an archipelago owned by and north of Norway. The organisations behind the vault hope to bring more seeds from outside of the Nordic countries.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault will now look after the samples and use them to monitor how natural forests change. They will also keep them as back-ups, in case any of the species are lost, and to see how the forests change during breeding.

The vault is about halfway between Norway and the North Pole, and cost £5 million and took 12 months to build. It opened in 2008, and is run by Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Iceland and Norway in an attempt to conserve the planet’s plants.

While the aim of conserving the different kinds of seeds is often mentioned in relation to the vault, scientists actually tend to be more interested in using the seeds to study how different organisms change.

“For me, personally, the catastrophe scheme is not a major motivation,” Mari Rusanen, a researcher for one of the national resources groups that look after the vault, told the BBC. "It is more important that these samples will, in the future, provide an opportunity to monitor long-term changes in the genetic composition of our natural forests."

In total, 218 different seeds were taken to the vault. The oldest was from 1938.

They were carried into the frozen vault, which is buried deep underground, by the Norwegian minister of agriculture and food, Sylvi Listhaug, and her equivalents from Sweden and Denmark.