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Extension planned to pioneering project to protect rare seeds

By Anna Liesowska
10 December 2014

Underground cryostorage facility will become largest in world, using Siberia's permafrost to naturally safeguard food and plants for 100 years.

'An eternal system that can't be affected by any disasters'. Picture: Institute of Biological Problems of the Permafrost Zone

Work is about to begin on the next stage of a pioneering underground 'Noah' Ark' in Siberia to protect endangered seeds using the natural cold of permafrost. Costing 227 million roubles, the project will see up to 1.5million samples from around the world housed in a special cryostorage facility built deep below the earth.

Plant, vegetable and cereal seeds will be placed in sealed glass containers for up to 100 years, with the freezing temperatures outside helping to preserve them in a giant natural refrigerator.

Unique in the world, this permafrost cooling system will safeguard of much of the world's food supply and plants in the face of climate change, war and disaster. A vault containing 100,000 seeds, mainly from Siberia, already exists on the site, in the Sakha Republic, also known as Yakutia, but the new extension will make it the largest anywhere on the planet.

Underground cryostorage facility will become largest in world, using Siberia's permafrost to naturally safeguard food and plants for 100 years  


Underground cryostorage facility will become largest in world, using Siberia's permafrost to naturally safeguard food and plants for 100 years   

'Scientists aim to preserve many of the most endangered species of plants and keep seeds there for up to 100 years without needing to replant'. Pictures: Institute of Biological Problems of the Permafrost Zone


Georgy Kuzmin, lead researcher of the Permafrost Institute, part of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said a number of horizontal channels will be embedded in the ground.

He said:'The project does not use any machinery or electricity or gas and so on. It only uses natural cold and, respectively, the operating costs are minimal'.

The first part of the cryostorage facility in Yakutsk was opened in December 2012, some 35 years after Soviet scientists began an experiment in a mine of the Permafrost Institute. At a depth of 12 metres they began the long-term storage of seeds from legumes at a temperature of about -7 degrees Celsius using just the natural cold from permafrost.

Scientists were able to prove that seeds can be stored at that temperature, rather than colder, without losing any of their germinating capacity.

Later, about 1,000 seeds from crops common in Yakutia were added to the storage facility along with some endemic, rare and endangered plant species.

By the time the facility opened in 2012, there were about 11,000 samples and there is now currently space for about 100,000 seeds from around Russia.

Underground cryostorage facility will become largest in world, using Siberia's permafrost to naturally safeguard food and plants for 100 years   
Noah's Ark cryostorage
The new phase will accommodate 1.5million seed samples. Pictures: Institute of Biological Problems of the Permafrost Zone


The complex does not use any fans or pumps to keep the temperature under the ground cool and instead simply relies on the natural cold air. The new phase will accommodate 1.5million seed samples, and will be filled with collections from Russia and the rest of the world.

Scientists aim to preserve many of the most endangered species of plants and keep seeds there for up to 100 years without needing to replant them.

Many countries keep stockpiles of their seeds to safeguard them against any major natural disasters, meaning the facility in Russia is a kind of 'Noah's Ark' for plants.

There is a similar storage laboratory in Svalbard, in Norway, but it relies upon artificial cooling measures as well as permafrost to lower temperatures to -18 degrees Celsius. This, according to scientists in Siberia, makes it less safe because of the dangers of a power outage posing a risk to the ability to keep the facility cool.

Global warming may also raise the temperatures of the Norwegian ice fields and melt the permafrost, something that is not possible in the Sakha Republic.

Nikolai Goncharov, from the Institute of Cytology and Genetics in Novosibirsk, said: 'When global temperatures get warmer by five degrees, the glaciers on Svalbard will melt. To melt the permafrost in Yakutia temperatures need to rise by about 20 degrees.

'So we have quite a unique situation where the permafrost creates storage in natural conditions that keep the desired temperature.

'It is an eternal, and environmentally-friendly, system that cannot be affected by any disasters'.

Underground cryostorage facility will become largest in world, using Siberia's permafrost to naturally safeguard food and plants for 100 years  


Underground cryostorage facility will become largest in world, using Siberia's permafrost to naturally safeguard food and plants for 100 years  

The 'Noah's Ark' for plants. Pictures: Institute of Biological Problems of the Permafrost Zone

Professor Boris Kershengolts, Deputy Director for Science of Institute of Biological Problems of the Permafrost Zone in Yakutsk, said: 'the important thing is that during our experiments we found out that when we store the seeds in permafrost, in a temperature not lower than minus 10C, we can get not only complete safety and viability of seeds, but also the safety of the genetic apparatus, without mutations'.

Comments (1)

So it's unique - just like this one:
https://www.regjeringen.no/en/topics/food-fisheries-and-agriculture/agriculture/svalbard-global-seed-vault/id462220/
Jack Pedersen, Denmark
24/12/2014 01:13
0
0
1

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