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Video: Rare opening of world’s ‘Doomsday Vault’

  1. Closed captioning of: Rare opening of world’s ‘Doomsday Vault’

    >> now to a rare opening of the so called doomsday vault that sits in norway and serves as a backup against disaster. it's a home for seeds from all around the world. nbc's michelle kosinski is there this morning. good morning, michelle.

    >> reporter: hey, savannah. this forbidding place -- and it's been a warm winter -- is the perfect place for a global seed vault . built four years ago but now thriving, a place to keep humanity's treasure in seeds for crops just in case who knows what might happen. here we are in 2012 . this strange monolith jutting from a frozen mountainside on the rooftop of the world. hi.

    >> hi.

    >> reporter: so this is the place.

    >> this is it.

    >> reporter: the vault. planted here by american scientist kerry fowler, the first global seed bank .

    >> this is a big long tunnel that leads us back to the coldest place in the mountain.

    >> reporter: drilled 400 feet straight through solid rock and permafrost, through sets of frozen doors.

    >> brace yourself.

    >> reporter: the minus 4 degrees fahrenheit now with 700,000 varieties of our planet's food crops . more than 100,000 types of rice. north korea sits peacefully next to south korea 's. just this week through a raging blizzard samples managed to come in from violence-ravaged syria. and from the u.s., hearty wheat, many amber waves worth. an enormous plant gene pool protected from any number of future disasters.

    >> this is what is going to allow agriculture to remain productive, to create food security , to adapt to climate change and water shortages. everything that we might want agriculture to be in the future.

    >> reporter: if i wanted to find the best tasting italian tomato .

    >> oh, yeah.

    >> reporter: it would be in one of these boxes.

    >> i promise you, it's here.

    >> reporter: it's here?

    >> yes, it is.

    >> reporter: in this extraordinary environment, a magnificent isolation. maybe the safest place. so frequently guarded bipolar bears, it is illegal to venture outside town without a gun. so peaceful under the glow of northern lights -- wow -- it can rest unmanned. both a repository for the advancement of human farming over the last 10,000 years and a safe guard for the next thousands. one tiny seed at a time. it's not just catastrophe that worries scientists. they say commercial farming has reduced crop diversity. if everybody is planting the same type of wheat, a disease that affects it will do damage. there could be a time we say what's an older wheat that's more resistant or more grow in a warmer, wetter place. some of the seeds are expected to still be viable 20,000 years from now.

Polar bears roam the frozen landscape outside the Doomsday Vault.
TODAY contributor
updated 3/2/2012 9:30:32 AM ET 2012-03-02T14:30:32

Jutting out of snow and ice in a forbidding part of Norway like the monolith in “2001: A Space Odyssey," the imposing Doomsday Vault literally holds the seeds to the world’s future in the event of global disaster.

Opened in February 2008, the vault houses more than 740,000 different seed samples from around the world, including a recent shipment of 25,000 seeds that originate everywhere from violence-ravaged Syria to the mountains of Tajikistan to the amaranth used in the Ecuadorian “Day of the Dead’’ celebration.

Video: Rare opening of world’s ‘Doomsday Vault’ (on this page)

Formerly known as the Svaldbard Global Seed Vault, the Doomsday Vault it serves as the master backup to the world’s other seed vaults. Its stores stand ready to start replenishing the world’s food supply in the event of natural disaster, water shortages, global warming or war.

Cary Fowler escorts Michelle Kosinski deep into the Doomsday Vault.

The vault is dug into the side of Plataberget mountain, near the village of Longyearbyen on a group of islands north of mainland Norway. It is even guarded by a natural security force, because polar bears roam the icy landscape around the facility. It is illegal to leave the local town without bringing a gun along.

Michelle Kosinski of NBC News was given a tour of the remote facility by Cary Fowler, executive director of Global Crop Diversity Trust, who conducted her through the long, icy tunnel leading to the coldest part of the mountain. Drilled straight through 400 feet of permafrost and rock past sets of frozen doors, it warehouses seemingly endless rows of seeds preserved at minus-4 degrees Fahrenheit.

Myriad varieties of seeds are stored at minus 4 degress Fahrenheit.

There are more than 100 thousand different types of rice alone in storage. The biggest contributor to the bank is the United States, which is sending 12,801 samples this year.

“This is what is going to allow agriculture to remain productive,’’ Fowler said. “To create food security, to adapt to climate change and water shortages, and everything we might want agriculture to be in the future.’’

Story: Doomsday Seed Vault has more than 740,000 samples

The unmanned facility holds seeds that will still be viable 20,000 years from now. Commercial farming has reduced the overall crop diversity in the world, so specific diseases could potentially wipe out a large chunk of production. In that instance, the Doomsday Vault holds seeds to older strains that could be reintroduced, or that might be more resistant to pests, disease and drought.

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The Doomsday Vault also stands steadfast to protect against other situations: the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the looting during Egyptian unrest that destroyed several types of seeds, and the January fire that engulfed several varieties at the National Plant Genetic Resources Laboratory in the Philippines. The vault can hold 2.25 billion seeds and the natural arctic temperatures keep them preserved.

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