Arctic seed bank -- should we be comforted, or alarmed?

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Today comes news that a seed bank set up on a frosty Arctic island in Norway to preserve the possiblity of feeding the world after a nuclear or climate disaster has reached the half-million mark for seed samples.

I'm confused: Should we be comforted, or alarmed? I mean, if the likelihood of nuclear or climate disaster is high enough to necessitate this kind of thing, that's bad. But then again, it seems like a prudent move, right?

I live just about an hour down the road from the lush Skagit River valley, which is a source of seeds used around the world for a variety of crops (not to mention a major producer of veggies that land on my plate on a regular basis.) Can't we keep getting our seeds there?  

Hmmm... it turns out they're calling this facility on the Norwegian island a "doomsday" seed vault.

Sigh. My stomach hurts.

-- Robert McClure


I believe that there is another goal not mentioned in the article is the preservation of a heritage seedbank. It is no secret that with the increasing genetic alteration of seeds used for modern farming that we could easily lose any reference or ability to go back to the original seeds for research or to start over.
Robert: The actual number of varieties that are actively farmed in the Skagit (and other industrial farming areas) is actually quite small when viewed in light of all the extant varieties that still exist in agro-ecosystems around the world. The intent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is to function as a last ditch backup for this genetic diversity. That's one reason it was sited at this location; the natural cold makes it more likely that the cold conditions necessary for longterm retention of seed viability will persist with less dependence on constant maintenance by people. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is intended to be the largest and most secure collection of crop plant germplasm in the world. Closer to home, there are two seed banks in the PNW, one at the Rare Care program located at the University of Washington Botanic Gardens in Seattle and the other in Portland at the Berry Botanic Garden. However, unlike the Svalbard bank, these are intended to conserve wild native plant taxa. Both are members of the Centers for Plant Conservation and focus on rare plants in this region.