24/09/2015 10:14 BST | Updated 24/09/2015 10:59 BST

Doomsday Arctic Seed Vault Opens As Syria Crisis Worsens

A doomsday seed vault designed to help us survive a nuclear war or an asteroid impact, has been opened in response to Syria's civil war.

Syrian scientists have asked to tap into the vault's 860,000 samples of seeds from all over the world, after the chaos of war depleted a gene bank near the Syrian city of Aleppo.

This is the first time the vault has been opened since it came in to existence in 2008.

The request was placed by the International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA), which was previously based in Syria but is now in Beirut, Lebanon.

Scientists have specifically asked for crops that can grow in dry regions, including barley and wheat.

Seed banks exist to preserve the biodiversity of crops in any given area but it is a function the ICARDA have struggled to carry out in the midst of Syria's ongoing war.


Currently, The Crop Trust oversees the doomsday vault tucked away in the Norwegian island of Svalbard.

It is supposed to act as a last resort for when local seed banks are not able to keep up the conservation of crop variety.

Brian Lainoff of the Crop Trust, told The WorldPost: "ICARDA has worked extremely hard and with extreme dedication to try and do their best during this time."

The World Food Programme is currently providing monthly food assistance to around four million Syrians within the country and 1.5 million refugees in neighbouring regions.

However, in order to ensure long-term food security, gene banks are vital.

ICARDA is one of about 1,750 individual gene banks. Their request amounts to 130 of the 325 boxes they sent to the Arctic before the war began.

So far, ICARDA has been able to duplicate 80 percent of its seed collection in Svalbard.

“If something were to happen to one of those collections around the world, they can always come back to the seed vault and retrieve what might have been lost,” Lainoff said.

“There are seeds in the vault that have originated from nearly if not every single country,” he added.

“It really is kind of the only example of true international cooperation. There’s seeds sitting on the same shelf from North Korea and South Korea, and they get along just fine up there.”

The vault cost around £6 million to build and it is located 20 metres into a rock.

According to The Crop Trust, this will ensure that the vault rooms remain "naturally frozen even in the event of failure of the mechanical cooling system and rising external air temperatures due to climate change."

With the capacity to hold 2.25 billion seeds, each sample belongs to whoever initially deposited it.