Buried inside a mountain on a remote Norwegian island, agricultural institutions from around the world are collaborating to safeguard important crops in the event of global catastrophe.
By preserving genetic material in an insulated, underground facility, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault hopes to guard against the permanent loss of plants that humanity relies on for food and medicine.
According to a Marijuana.com analysis of Svalbard’s database, there are 21,500 cannabis seeds being held for safekeeping in the vault. That’s more weed seeds than there are asparagus, blueberry or raspberry seeds stored at the facility. There are more marijuana genetics in the “Doomsday Seed Vault” than there are for artichoke, cranberry and pear combined.
The stored cannabis seeds originate from at least 17 countries, some of which aren’t at all surprising, like The Netherlands. Five hundred of the marijuana seeds, however, come from North Korea. None originate from the United States.
While the government of Norway owns and operates the Svalbard vault itself, with assistance from the Nordic Genetic Research Center and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-funded Global Crop Diversity Trust, the seeds are actually owned by the gene banks that stashed them there.
Since the facility opened in 2008, there have been 39 deposits of cannabis seeds by three separate organizations: the Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety, the Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research in Germany and the Nordic Genetic Resource Center, based in Sweden and Norway.
Most recently, on April 9 of this year the Austrian group deposited 1,000 seeds each from France, The Netherlands, Poland and its own country.
The vault’s location, about 800 miles from the North Pole, was selected because of its permafrost and lack of tectonic activity. That means the seeds will stay cold even in the event of a power failure, and the bunker they’re contained in is unlikely to be cracked open by an earthquake or volcanic eruption. And, because it’s located 430 feet above sea level, the facility will stay dry even if global climate change causes the ice caps to melt.
As a 17-minute Svalbard promo video puts it, the vault is “built to withstand an extreme future.”
While the seed bank’s potential value in the event of global apocalyptic catastrophe is what gets the most attention, it actually has more mundane — yet important — everyday uses. Svalbard “is a back-up repository for safety duplicates of seed accessions stored in conventional gene banks around the world,” Ola Westengen, Svalbard’s coordinator of operation and management, told Marijuana.com in an email.
By protecting copies of seeds from the 1,400 regular seed banks around the world that are in active use by researchers and breeders, the remote underground facility serves as an insurance policy against localized crop failures, fires, floods and civil instabilities that can jeopardize crucial plant genetics that people around the world rely on to survive.
“The Svalbard Global Seed Vault provides us with the opportunity of maintaining a back-up copy of the materials that we are conserving here,” says Desterio Nyamongo, a geneticist with the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute in Africa. “Just in case we lose our materials through a natural disaster.”
Svalbard’s online database doesn’t detail which specific strains of cannabis are being stored for post-apocalyptic enjoyment, though only eight of the deposits are described in the database as “hemp,” with the other 31 listed as “marijuana.”
With no way to know which strains are being kept at Svalbard right now, how can marijuana enthusiasts be sure that quality cannabis genetics representing a wide variety of cultivars with diverse uses will be preserved for future generations?
“All genebanks in the world are welcome to make use of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault,” the organization’s website says, “as long as they agree with the principles of operation and meet the requirements” outlined in the facility’s guidelines for submission.
So perhaps some master cultivators from California, Colorado or elsewhere will take on the task of sending premium Sour Diesel, Strawberry Cough, Jack Herer or O.G. Kush seeds to Svalbard’s vault to prevent those strains from being lost forever in the event of a zombie attack, alien invasion, nuclear war, asteroid impact or other apocalyptic scenario.
The future of marijuana may depend on it.