A conservationist cradles two vials of peas destined for deposit in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. The remarkable facility set on a rugged Arctic island off Norway is the ultimate global safety net for food security. It's able to protect up to 2.25 billion seeds from even "doomsday" scenarios like asteroid impacts and nuclear war.
But crop varieties are already vanishing at an astonishing pace for more mundane reasons, from shifting local weather patterns to disuse by farmers adopting new hybrids. The vault represents a chance to save as many as possible.
"I'd say doomsday is happening everyday for crop varieties," said Cary Fowler, executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, which helps manage the facility. "Lots of people think that this vault is waiting for doomsday before we use it. But it's really a backup plan for seeds and crops. We are losing seed diversity every day and this is the insurance policy for that."