In the northernmost town on Earth, on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault protects around 865,000 seed samples from almost every country on our planet (including North Korea). A gene bank built to protect the biodiversity of food crops, its design takes advantage of the island’s permafrost, thick rock, low humidity, and above sea level location. In theory, the vault is “disaster-proof.”
Derek Muller of Veritasium got a rare tour of the facilities when he traveled to Svalbard earlier this year. Also from his trip: a primer on The Northernmost Town on Earth (Svalbard in 4K), filmed in 4K by drone.
…how did this cold, remote, ice-covered archipelago come to be inhabited?
The hills around town are rich in coal deposits that have been mined for over 100 years.
The coal was transported to the port via a series of aerial tramways some of which remain today, though they are no longer operational.
Coal is a reminder that Svalbard was not always an Arctic ice world. 360 million years ago it was actually in the tropics North of the equator. A swampy area, it was covered with the precursors to modern ferns, which were much larger than they are today, reaching 10-30 metres in height.
This vegetation was then covered in mud and sand and submerged under the sea. Over time it turned into the coal deposits that in the 20th century brought miners from Norway, Russia, and the US.
Most of the coal mines have now closed and the economy is gradually shifting towards tourism, education and research.