When the apocalypse comes, the Svalbard islands of Norway might hold the only surviving vestiges of human civilization. The Arctic archipelago is home to the Global Seed Vault, an 11,000-square-foot underground repository (seen above) that preserves hundreds of thousands of seeds from all over the world in case of a catastrophic plant extinction. Now, a new kind of vault has opened up next door in a former coal mine that belongs to the Norwegian government, as Gizmodo reports.
The Arctic World Archive is designed to hold data, not seeds, storing historical and sensitive information on micrographic film created by Piql, a Norwegian preservation company. The film is then stored in a physical box deep in the vault, designed to be retrieved and read by anyone in the future, even if the original technology used to read and write the file (say, a PDF) is no longer in use. It’s a highly secure library designed to keep certain documents and data available for the foreseeable future, through whatever environmental disasters, cybersecurity attacks, or world wars might come in the next 500 to 1000 years.
In one of its brochures for the archive, Piql argues that keeping an analog version of important documents in a remote place is necessary in today’s digital world:
In a world threatened with more and more cyber attacks, digital espionage, data manipulation and electronic warfare, having valuable and critical information stored on a system independent of specific technologies and kept in a secure and safe location becomes more and more relevant. The Arctic World Archive is an offline data vault that ensures the most sensitive and irreplaceable data to be protected for the future. Located in a disaster-proof vault, the information is kept in permafrost conditions far away from political and physical instabilities in the rest of the world.
While the files can be read online, the physical film can only be accessed by ordering it to be brought up from inside the vault. The microfilm cannot be overwritten, so whatever was first recorded on it cannot be manipulated by anyone who subsequently handles it.
The pace of technology moves at such a rapid clip that even data created a few decades ago might be largely unreadable to the public—how do you retrieve data from a floppy disc when no computers have those drives anymore? The idea here is that this micrographic film (Piql representatives describe it like QR codes written on film) will be able to outlast the original technology used to create the file. It’s the 21st century equivalent of carving runes onto stone.
The Brazilian and Mexican governments have already put copies of their constitutions and other historic national documents—some dating back to the 16th century—in the archive.