Summer 2016 Part I: Depositing the first french seeds at the Global Seed Vault

I should preface this by saying that I took a leave from research all summer, to jump from one adventure to another, wandering the Arctic.

It all started with an adventure like no other, a trip to Svalbard with the Institution AgroParis Bourse. AgroParis is literally the “General Union of the Paris Commodities Exchange”, based in Paris France. Every year they organise a trip for the institution and its partners, and 2016 was aiming to go to Svalbard.

map-svalbardAgroParis did not choose Svalbard for its infamous agriculture, but rather for the Global Seed Vault, built in the capital (and let’s face it, the only town) of Svalbard, namely Longyearbyen. The Global Seed Vault, also called Doomsday Vault / Noa’s ark etc etc, stores about 1 million of seed samples from across the world. Each sample contains 500 seeds tightly sealed in a 3-ply aluminium bag. The seed vault is, by definition, the back-up for national seed vaults. Interestingly my country, France, had not bothered depositing any seeds in the vault, because of.. reasons. So THERE was the opportunity to make a difference and bring the first little bags of French seeds to Svalbard! The fantastic team of AgroParis Bourse seized the opportunity and worked so very hard to make it happen.

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Picture from croptrust.org

Joining me as “experts” on the trip were:

  • Madeleine Griselin, a legend of glaciology in France and someone who has greatly inspired me to study glaciers,
  • Jean Louis Etienne, French explorer and scientists who has conducted numerous expeditions to the poles and the Himalayas,
  • Olivier Pitras first French skipper to cross the Arctic Ocean on a sailing boat, and last but not least,
  • Francois Gabart solo yacht racer who’s currently crushing of all records on sailing boats.
  • Asmund Asdal, coordinator of the global seed vault.

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Madeleine Griselin (to the left) and Francois Gabart (to the right).

I felt really lucky indeed to be surrounded by such incredible people. The trip lasted for four days, and we did not touch ground for one second!

Day one marked the big event, the first seed deposit into doomsday vault!! The varieties “festival” and “sidereal” were officially accepted for permanent conservation.

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We made it! Baudoin Delforge, President of AgroParis Bourse waving the french flag.

Some cool facts about the seed vault:

  • Located in Svalbard because it’s cold, and the permafrost (frozen ground) helps to keep the seed vault cool, as a low cost. The seed vault is 120 m above sea level (smart) and dug about 100 m into Platafjellet, a mountain between Longyearbyen and the airport.
  • It is -18C in the main chamber. It is rapidly filling up, and two other chambers are ready to welcome new seeds.
  • In 2015 the first withdrawal of seeds was performed by Syria.

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Some pictures taken in 2015 when I got the chance to visit the vault!

On the second day we explored a little more of what Svalbard can offer. We took a boat to sail to Tempelfjorden, about 60 km North of Longyearbyen and paid a visit to Tunabreen, one of my favourite glaciers on the archipelago. Svalbard is covered at 60% by glaciers, so you’re never far from ice.

The morning mist slowly dissipated to reveal the spectacular glacier. Tunabreen is a calving glacier (meaning losing bits of ice into the water) that we’ve been studying for quite a while. And sharing our work and all the experience we’ve acquired with 110 french people was quite an extraordinary experience!

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Eventually, sadly, we had to bid goodbye to Svalbard, but not after visiting its very best restaurants and sampling the best wines of the archipelago. But that wasn’t the end of the adventure! Our mighty plane took us straight back to Gardemoen, Oslo’s main airport, for an unforgettable evening. Francois Gabart and the new French ambassador in Norway joined us for a dinner up Holmenkollen.

The atmosphere in Oslo was so festive. Norwegians were celebrating the summer equinox, and everyone was out on the streets enjoying the warm summer down the fjord.

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After the dinner the super friendly team from the French embassy took us to some great pubs in AkerBrygge, the new and architecturally stunning suburbs of Oslo.

A short night and a run to the Oslo opera house later, time had sadly come to fly back to Paris. What an adventure! Thank you AgroParis Bourse for the incredible time!

 

Related links:

AgroParis Bourse

Global Seed Vault

Jean Louis Etienne

Francois Gabart

Olivier Pitras

The University Centre in Svalbard

 

 

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