Saturday, August 11, 2007

It's grim up North

Posted by goatchurch at 10:31 AM
A friend of mine is off to do his PhD in Spitsbergen, some town in the north of Norway, he said. I said I'd like to come and visit.

Now that I've seen just how far north it is (roughly level with the north coast of Greenland), I don't know if it's possible. There is no cheap way there. Further web-surfing corroborated the fact that there is a university at the place. The current news for the UNIS mentions a lot of research to do with ice, wind, and weather, not surprisingly. My friend is a physicist who's going to do something with the Aurora Borealis. We might hear from him on-line quite a bit during the eternal night from October to February.

In the life getting ahead of Science Fiction department, they've started building the Svalbard Global Seed Vault there:
The proposed seedbank will be built by hollowing out a cave in a sandstone mountain. The bank will have dual blast-proof doors with motion sensors, two airlocks, and walls of steel-reinforced concrete one metre thick. Seeds will be wrapped in aluminium foil to keep out moisture. There will be no full-time staff, but the vault's relative inaccessibility will make it easy to track human activity.

Spitsbergen was considered an ideal location due to its lack of tectonic activity and its longtime permafrost, which will help to preserve seeds. Coal from a local mine will also be used to power refrigeration units which will further cool the seeds to the internationally-recommended standard −20 to −30 C. Prior to construction, a feasibility study determined that the vault could preserve seeds from most of the major food crops for hundreds of years. Other seeds, including those of important grains, could survive far longer, possibly for thousands of years.

The goal is to prevent important agricultural and wild plants from becoming rare or extinct in the event of a global disaster such as global warming, a meteorite strike, nuclear or biological warfare, or gene pollution from transgenic plants. There are already over 1400 local seedbanks around the world, but many are in politically unstable or environmentally threatened nations. When this seedbank is built, the vault will be secure and isolated from much of the world's population.
Well, it's a relief to see some people are thinking ahead here, and not relying on any Fi-Sci (Fictional Science) developments to preserve the basic technology our species depends on to thrive.

I wonder if there's a story here of an expedition to the north to rescue these seeds after a disaster. Maybe there are a series of "Indiana Jones"-like traps so as to only let in people who are going to understand how to cultivate the seeds, and not just any old numb-skull who doesn't know to plant things properly in whose hands they would be completely wasted.

What devices would let a Nikolai Vavilov through, and stop me, whilst persuading me to go fetch him?


Blogger Jeff said...

Trap - The characters are sealed in a large closed room with a dirt floor and a supply of water, a bucket of ashes, a bottle of liquid detergent, and empty clear plastic bottle, and a choice of seeds. They begin to use up the air supply. They have to be able to plant the seeds, create fertilizer from the materials at hand, and have them grow quickly enough to raise the oxygen level in the room before they starve to death. When O2 levels pass a certain threshold, the door to the next chamber opens.

Granted, in the time that would take, the entire novel could take place in that one room.

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