Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Earth as Vault

Journalists and dignitaries fight a blast of Arctic wind to enter the Svalbard International Seed Vault for the first time. Photograph by Larsen Hakon

Yesterday marked the opening of the Svalbard International Seed Vault, also known as the Doomsday Vault. Carved into the Arctic permafrost of Norway, the vault will house and protect 3 million seed samples from around the globe in the event of a major catastrophic event. More than 100 countries supported the effort and yesterday's inauguration drew dignitaries from around the globe. Norway's Agriculture Minister Terje Riis-Johansen told the BBC that the vault is a "Noah's Ark on Svalbard."

So how does one go about building what amounts to an agricultural refrigerator in the Earth?

First, you need a constant source of cold, one that won't shut down should someone or something unplug the global energy infrastructure. The rendering above shows the design: The vault is tunneled into a frozen mountainside on the island of Svalbard, about 620 miles from the North Pole.

Then you need an airtight inner chamber that will protect the seeds from outside elements. They will be wrapped in tin foil.

Then you need security to keep the seeds from being compromised. In addition to being fenced in and guarded and equipped with motion detectors, the facility management is also counting on the resident polar bears to keep saboteurs at bay...

On the opposite extreme... A desert climate became the home to Dr. Evil's imaginary underground lair in Austin Powers. A real desert installation (minus the sharks with lasers on their heads) happened in 2005, when Cabinet magazine aquired a piece of land in New Mexico and named it Cabinetlandia. A reader of the magazine later installed an archive for the publication into the earth, creating a kind of earthworks-meets-vault: