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Humanity’s data stored in a Norwegian bunker

Humanity’s data stored in a Norwegian bunker
Humanity’s data stored in a Norwegian bunker

The isolated Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard holds a special secret!

Within an icy mountain, halfway between Norway and the North Pole, the island of Spitsberg has for the past ten years been home to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, the world’s largest freezer. The purpose of the “Noah’s Ark for plants” is to protect the world’s plant biodiversity in the form of seeds (over one million varieties of crops to date) from conflicts and natural disasters, and thus ensure the survival of existing crops.

On 27 March 2017, the island of Spitsberg welcomed a new addition, the Arctic World Archive, a place designed to protect global data from natural disasters and conflicts. The data is stored on a special Polyester film developed by Piql, the Norwegian company that created the data centre with the Norwegian state-owned mining company SNSK. Its purpose: preserving the history of Humanity!

A Data Centre in a former coal mine

Located far away from any human activity, from the effects of climate change (for the time being) and in a fully demilitarised area, our cultural and scientific history is preserved on less volatile media than hard disks in a former coal mine protected by thick rocks and permafrost. The storage conditions inside the former coal mine are perfect. The temperature inside the vault is maintained at -18 degrees Celsius all year round. The giant vault is built at a depth of 120 metres and is specially designed to withstand natural disasters such as earthquakes, asteroids, disease and drought, as well as human-made disasters such as wars.

Norway is considered a trustworthy country and the vaults located near the North Pole offers geological and climatic conditions conducive to preservation. It is also difficult to access, making stealth attacks almost impossible.

Data stored on a polyester film

The storage medium is in itself quite special. The data is not stored on hard disks, but rather “printed” on photosensitive films much like the films used in cameras. It is on such flexible 35 mm polyester films coated in a protective layer that the world’s data, be it text, photographs or videos, is and will be stored, to be subsequently buried underground in safes.

Piql specialises in recording data in the form of large QR codes on films, and in this case on a new type of microfilm designed to last at least 500 years.

However, there is one drawback to the method: its size. A reel measuring 40cm in diameter can only hold 120 GB of data. That is a rather small amount considering that a microSD card the size of a nail can hold twice as much data.

The purpose of this ultra-secure location is to enable governments, organisations, companies and individuals to leave a trace of all information, documents and data relating to the history of humanity and thus protect this massive library for future generations: a digital heritage of data that is valuable for the whole world.

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