Arctic World Archive Puts Data on Ice for 1,000 Years

The Arctic World Archive can be found on the same mountain as the Svalbard Global Seed Vault pictured here. The archive opened on March 27, 2017. Crop Trust

Far under snowy mountains cold, in an icy vault that's not that old, you'll find the safest place to store your digital photo album: the Arctic World Archive.

The archive resides on Spitsbergen, an island in Europe's Svalbard archipelago that more than 40 countries have dubbed a demilitarized zone. It's part of Norway.


Spitsbergen is fast becoming the place to go if you want to keep something safe for generations as it's also home to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a seed bank dedicated to the preservation of millions of plant species. At the time of publication, the vault held 864,309 samples.

The Arctic World Archive, which is owned by a private company called Piql Preservation Services and opened on March 27, has a related purpose. It's a repository for information. The company located the archive in a disaster-proof vault on the same mountain as the seed vault.

According to Piql (pronounced pickle), the data storage medium will be high-resolution film. That means the Arctic World Archive will be a high-tech (and chilly) version of the microfilm department you'd encounter at your local library.

You can choose to store your information in a few ways. If you wish, Piql will record your data in a machine-readable, open source format on the film. Or you can choose to store your data in the format of text and images directly on the film itself. Then, Piql puts your film in the vault and locks it away in the high-security facility.

The company will include instructions for data retrieval in readable text on the film itself. Piql says the format in its Arctic setting could survive up to 1,000 years without degrading. And because the information is in a fixed, offline format, there's no danger of hackers infiltrating the system without having physical access to the facility itself.

What if you need to retrieve your data? Contact Piql and, presumably after the company confirms you're authorized to access the information, you will either receive a link to view uploaded information, or you can opt to have the data shipped to you on physical media.

Brazil, Mexico and Norway already have stored information in the vault. The company founder Rune Bjerkestrand told the Verge that it hadn't finalized the pricing yet. We'll have to wait and see if the company gets enough customers to keep the vault operational indefinitely. Otherwise, the wisdom of the ages could one day end up abandoned in the heart of icy mountains, locked away and forgotten.