3 of 3


Spitsbergen, the largest of the islands in the Svalbard Archipelago, sits well inside the Arctic Circle, just south of 80 degrees north latitude. This image of the island and its topography was captured by NASA's Terra satellite. The rugged mountains are capped with snow and glaciers, with only the river valleys and low elevations supporting vegetation. Braided, shallow rivers filled with glacial sediment occupy the valleys. The vertical scale is exaggerated by a factor of two to emphasize the rugged terrain. The small town of Longyearbyen serves as the capital; its small airport provides the most northerly public airline service on earth. Although coal mining is still an important economic activity on the frigid island, scientists have recently become as interested in what can be tucked away in the frozen mountains of Spitsbergen as what can be extracted from them. In late February 2008, Norway accepted the first deposit for a so-called "Doomsday" agricultural seed vault, drilled deep into the mountains overlooking the Svalbard Airport. Financed by Norway, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault will safeguard seeds of human food crops from all over the world in the event a natural or human-caused catastrophic event would threaten the human food supply. Photo courtesy of NASA.