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A Second Doomsday Vault—This One to to Preserve Data—Is Opening in Svalbard

Known as the Arctic World Archive, it will store copies of books, archives and documents on special film

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault. A new vault will protect the world's books, archives and documents on long-lasting film (Wikimedia Commons)
smithsonian.com

The Doomsday Vault, aka the Global Seed Vault on Norway's Arctic Svalbard Archipelago, has gotten a lot of attention since it opened in 2008. That’s because the giant freezer holds almost 1 million seed samples of important food crops which will be used to help humanity rebuild agriculture if those varieties disappear due to changes in farming, global catastrophe or war. Now, another doomsday facility is preparing to open on Svalbard: the Arctic World Archive, a for-profit business which will be used to store information, including important documents, archives and books from countries around the world, reports Jasper Hamill at news.com.au.

Pål Berg, business development manager for Store Norske, has spent the last year developing the project which will be housed in the abandoned Mine 3. In an interview with Christopher Engås at Svalbardposten, he pronounced the seed vault a success, but pointed out that the important samples aren't the only material in need of safe harbor. "[I]t is not just seeds humanity needs safely stored for a long time," he says.

The new bunker will not hold billions of reams of paper, CDs, servers or hard drives. Instead, the information is being stored on a new medium called Piql, which, according to a press release, uses high-resolution photosensitive film to store data. That way, the original documents can’t be altered and the information is not online and subject to cyber attacks.

"We believe that we can save the data using our technology for a whole 1,000 years,” Katrine Loen Thomsen of Piql tells Hamill. “It is clear that in order to damage the files, you have to physically break into the vault and grab a roll of film,” she tells Sputnik News.

So far, Brazil and Mexico have both agreed to store copies of their national archives in the vault, along with Norway's Sogn og Fjordane County Council. “There is a special feeling that I should save my nation’s memory on the Arctic island,” Eric Cardoso from Mexico’s National Archives tells Hamill.

Svalbard is an ideal location for storage. Not only does the permafrost keep underground facilities nice and cool year round, it is remote and isolated and of little strategic value, except to seabirds and walrus. “Svalbard is a unique area with the qualities we need,” Rune Bjerkestrand, administrative director of Piql, tells Engas. “Today we are experiencing an increasingly troubled world and we also see that databases are threatened by cyber attacks. It can be very good at such a time to have an archive that exists isolated in a cold archive in a part of the world where there also is no military activity.”

There’s no word on whether the U.S. will use the vault, and maybe it doesn’t have to. According to Atlas Obscura, the most precious U.S. documents used to be stored in the 55-ton Mosler Vault, which was capable of withstanding an atomic blast. That vault was replaced by a top-secret vault in the last decade or so, but we’re guessing it can withstand nuclear blasts, asteroid strikes and alien invasions too.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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