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'The power of the taiga... perhaps only migratory birds know where it ends'
Anton Chekhov, 1890

Extension planned to pioneering 'Noah's Ark' project to protect rare seeds

By Anna Liesowska
02 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 (5)

I would like to help this project, How can I do this? I have many seeds here, from several species: Medicine trees, plants, bushs, fructs, nuts, palm trees. I often plant them, I've planted many trees since I was a boy, Now I'm 36 years old. I go myself to the field and rainforests to collect the seeds, I have native indian blood and red skin, so I don't have problems with the sunlight. I am concerned about their extinction, and annual great criminal fires everywhere around here. I have picked up many seeds and I will pick more! I can send you the photos os my seeds.
Paulo Jugger, Goiás-Brazil
12/11/2015 04:55
2
0
I'm so glad to see Russia doing this. Especially since no one should count on Bill Gates and his elite buddies to share what seeds they're stashing in the Svalbard vault with the rest of the world in case of a global disaster. I hope you'll be most successful in this venture. Peace to all in Russia & Kudos!!
Rose Hilliard, Everton, Arkansas, U.S.
29/01/2015 11:17
2
0
This is quite similar to whats already located at Svalbard
E M., Bergen, Norway
27/01/2015 18:48
2
0
thank you, Russia!
brendan donegan, hudson, ny, usa
07/12/2014 07:05
3
0
Wow! Thank-you Russia once again for making this STRONG stance in PROTECTING the HEIRLOOM plants of the world! I just about fell off my chair when I saw this article! This is actually part of my life's work, to PROTECT the heirloom plants and seeds. I would be greatly honored if I could offer my assistance on this project. I also have a project I would like to make happen called: THE GARDEN OF EDGEN project. It is in keeping with your project, to also PROTECT the HEIRLOOM plants of the world! My project can't be done in the U.S.(where I live) because of GMO contamination! Please contact me if you would like my assistance.

Sincerely: Cindy
cindy garay, sitka alaska
03/12/2014 05:05
3
0
1

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