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Svalbard’s global seed vault is being expanded to offer extreme data storage

Doomsday may be closer than ever, but thanks to the Arctic World Archive, at least your data could survive the looming apocalypse. Norway is already the home to the Global Seed Vault, a frozen ark for 1.5 million seeds to…

Doomsday may be closer than ever, but thanks to the Arctic World Archive, at least your data could survive the looming apocalypse.
Norway is already the home to the Global Seed Vault, a frozen ark for 1.5 million seeds to avoid their extinction, and now the Arctic World Archive aims to do the same for your data — in the same disused mine in the same mountain on the island of Svalbard, famous for its polar bear population.
Run by a small Norwegian archiving company called Piql, the World Arctic Archive will store key documents, books and other files on photosensitive film held in protective boxes, a technique Piql says it’s tested to survive for at least 500 years and believes will last for 1,000.

That longevity is helped by the storage location. First, the film will be stored in an abandoned mine with a constant temperature below zero degrees Celsius, helpful for maintaining the piqlFilm, and deep enough to avoid damage from nuclear or EMP weapons. Second, Svalbard is considered to be essentially a demilitarised zone, with a treaty signed by 42 countries banning military and their equipment from the island. Third, the entire archive is stored offline, with access only provided when needed.

Aside from protecting data to be read by those who survive doomsday, the data is unalterable — meaning the backup can’t be changed, handy for keeping facts from disappearing down the memory hole. “Your data is securely preserved on a true WORM (write once, read many) medium, making it impossible to manipulate or delete your valuable data,” the company explained.

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The data is digitsed and encoded on the film, with instructions on how to read the files included. “For disaster recovery, all you need is a light source and some sort of digital camera and computer,” the company says on its website, though it also offers a system for saving data in human-readable text or images, for “additional security”.

So far, three countries have started storing data in the mine, including Norway, Mexico and Brazil, which has included key documents from its national archives, among others. “By doing this now, we are ensuring that future generations will have access to this information,” said Ricardo Marques, the director of the National Archives of Brazil, in a brochure announcing the Arctic World Archive.

It may sound a bit far-fetched that the Brazilian constitution or Mexican historical documents need such protection, but apocalyptic scenarios need not be global — Syria was the first country to withdraw from the Global Seed Vault last year, and archives and government documents are often targeted in times of war, noted Tor Eivind Johansen, managing director of a Norwegian municipal archive group, KDRS, which is storing data in the mine.