It sounds like something from a science fiction film - a doomsday vault carved into a frozen mountainside on a secluded Arctic island ready to serve as a Noah's Ark for seeds in case of a global catastrophe.
But Norway's ambitious project is on its way to becoming reality Monday when construction begins on the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, designed to house as many as 3 million of the world's crop seeds.
Its purpose is to ensure the survival of crop diversity in the event of plant epidemics, nuclear war, natural disasters or climate change, and to offer the world a chance to restart growth of food crops that may have been wiped out.
The seeds, packaged in foil, would be stored at such cold temperatures that they could last hundreds, even thousands, of years, according to the independent Global Crop Diversity Trust. The trust, founded in 2004, has also worked on the project and will help run the vault, which is scheduled to open and start accepting seeds from around the world in September 2007.
While Norway will own the vault facility, countries contributing seeds will own the material they deposit - much as with a bank safe deposit box. The Global Crop Diversity Trust will help developing countries pay the cost of preparing and sending seeds.