A Visit To The Doomsday Vault

Scott Pelley Visits One Of The World's Most Unique Seed Banks

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60 Minutes is going to take you on a journey to the end of the earth to show you a place that might someday save humankind. It's a bank built to last 10,000 years. But as correspondent Scott Pelley explains, it's not money or gold that's on deposit. Currencies rise and fall with civilizations.

60 Minutes was there last month, when the world's most important assets were made safe from climate change and nuclear war, locked deep inside the doomsday vault.

Head towards the top of the planet, over the freezing Arctic Ocean, and you'll a find a collection of ice-covered islands called "Svalbard," Norwegian for "cold coast."

The islands are due north of Europe, administered by Norway, and among the last bits of land before the North Pole.

Down on the water is the northernmost town in the world, Longyearbyen, with about 2,000 people. But polar bears outnumber the people, and reindeer outnumber everything. It's an otherworldly place, a twilight zone, where, sometimes, the sun never rises and the moon never sets. In the dead of winter, it was the last stop in the 30-year journey of American scientist Cary Fowler.

Fowler admits it's "a world away" from his native Tennessee.

Asked if he ever worried that the project wouldn't get this far, Fowler admits, "I was worrying all the time. But here we are."

From the outside, the vault looks like a concrete wedge pounded into a mountain. But as you walk through the door, you cross from a hostile wasteland into a safe house for humanity.

"Well, I've got to say, it looks like a doomsday vault," Pelley remarks.

"It probably is one. At least we think if there are any big problems on the outside, this is going to survive," Fowler says. "We built it to last as long as we could imagine. I don't know what was in the minds of the people who built the pyramids. Maybe they were building to last forever too. But I can't think of anything that's built in our lifetime that's been built with this kind of time horizon."

Inside, pipes provide additional refrigeration, despite the fact the vault is only several hundred miles from the North Pole. "We're going freeze it even further," Fowler explains.

They freeze it colder than the permafrost, so that if the earth warms and the power goes out, the vault will stay frozen for another 25 years.