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SVALBARD

Syria genebank sends seeds to Svalbard

More than 80 percent of the valuable crop seeds kept in a gene bank in the Syrian city of Aleppo have been shipped to the Global Seed Vault in Svalbard for safekeeping, the bank's director general revealed on Tuesday.

Syria genebank sends seeds to Svalbard
The seeds are delivered the the Svalbard Global Seed Vault on Wednesday. Photo: Global Crop Diversity Trust
“We are entrusted with the genetic wealth from some 128 countries – a resource we cannot afford to lose,” Dr. Mahmoud Solh, director general of the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (Icarda), said in a statement. “Almost all the germaplasm collections are now saved outside Syria." 
 
Aleppo has been left in ruins since seeing some of the fiercest fighting of the Syrian civil war. Roughly half of the city has been in the hands of Syrian rebels since the start of 2013, with government forces holding the other half. 
 
According to Icarda, seven shipments containing a total of 116,484  seeds have now been received by the Global Seed Vault, with the latest shipment arriving in March. 
 
This is no small achievement for the genebank's 12-member team in Syria, who have been working in increasingly challenging conditions to duplicate the seeds, document them, package them, and ship them to locations around the world. 
 
The Aleppo genebank contains arguably the world's largest collection of barley, fava bean and lentil crops, along with ancient varieties of durum and bread wheat, and wild crops collected in the 'fertile crescent', the area of Egypt, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, which is the site of the earliest recorded crop domestication. 
 
Marie Haga, who leads the global mission in the conservation of crop diversity as Executive Director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, commended Icarda for its efforts. 
 
"The loss of seed collections at times of conflict is an unfortunate fall-out," she said. "We applaud the work of Icarda’s gene bank staff, who have gone above and beyond their duty to assure the conservation of this global heritage." 
 
Svalbard’s Coordinator Ola Westengen said that the problems faced by the Syrian genebank underlined the rationale for keeping a seed bank in as remote and safe location as Svalbard. 
 
"The current situation for the globally important genebank in Syria precisely illustrates the purpose of the seed vault – to be a safety net for valuable seed collections”, he said
 

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MUSEUM

Norway digitally freezes national treasures and stores them in Arctic archive

Norway’s National Museum has preserved some of the country’s most treasured artefacts digitally and stored them in a former mine on Arctic archipelago Svalbard.

Norway digitally freezes national treasures and stores them in Arctic archive
Photo: Bartek Luks on Unsplash

The Arctic World Archive was originally constructed in 2017 to “protect the world’s most important cultural relics”, the National Museum said on its website.

The data preservation facility is located on the island of Spitsbergen, part of the Svalbard archipelago, not far from the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.

The National Museum has now placed its entire collection of around 400,000 items as digital copies on plastic film rolls, which are to be stored at the Longyearbyen site.

“The dry, cold and low-oxygen air gives optimal conditions for storing digital archives and the film rolls will have a lifetime of around 1,000 years in the archive,” the museum writes. Emissions emitted by the archive are low due to its low energy consumption.

Offline storage of the archives also insures them against cyber attacks, the museum said.

In addition to all data from the National Museum collection database, high-resolution digital images of works by selected artists are included in the archive.

Works to be stored include ‘The Scream’ by Edvard Munch, ‘Winter Night in the Mountains’ by Harald Sohlberg, the Baldishol Tapestry and Queen Maud’s ball dress.

“At the National Museum we have works from antiquity until today. We work with the same perspective on the future. The collection is not only ours, but also belongs to the generations after us,” National Museum director Karin Hindsbo said via the museum’s website.

“By storing a copy of the entire collection in the Arctic World Archive, we are making sure the art will be safe for many centuries,” Hindsbo added.

In addition to the Norwegian artefacts, organisations from 15 other countries are represented in the archive, including national museums in Mexico, Brazil and India; the Vatican library, Sweden’s Moderna Museet and Unicef.

READ ALSO: Norway's Arctic 'doomsday vault' stocks up on 60,000 more food seeds

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