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Look Inside the Doomsday Vault That May Hold the World's Most Important Data

by NBC MACH /

A doomsday event could wipe out centuries of documents, but one company is looking to protect our most important information in an underground vault far from the connected world.

In March, the Norwegian tech company Piql opened the Arctic World Archive on Svalbard, a frozen archipelago 600 miles from the North Pole. The remote, climate-controlled bunker is located 300 meters below the surface in a converted mineshaft. It's considered safe from natural and nuclear disasters and free from political meddling as a result of a treaty that demilitarized the islands.

"If the rest of the world goes to hell, this place will be the last thing to fall off," says Pal Berg of SNSK, the Norwegian coal mining firm that operates the vault.

The Arctic World Archive is near the Global Seed Vault, which holds the world's crop seeds.

"If they can store seeds for the benefit of humanity into the future, why couldn't we store data at that island?" says Rune Bjerkestrand, the archive's founder.

Governments, scientific researchers, religious institutions, and media companies are able to store their most important documents in the vault, Bjerkestrand says. Brazil and Norway have already archived their constitutions and important historical papers there.

The information is converted into high-resolution QR codes that are printed in binary code and as photos and text on film that the company says can last for at least 500 years — possibly up to 1,000 years.

Related: NASA's Bold Plan to Save Earth From Killer Asteroids

How much does storage cost? Piql won't say.

The vault’s data is kept offline, free from hackers. When a document is requested, its film has to be pulled from the vault and transmitted via fiber-optic cable to Piql’s headquarters in Drammen, Norway.

"I hope that the world's important memories will be stored in the vault," Bjerkestrand says. "The memories that must and needs and deserves to be carried into the future."

 The entrance to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault outside Longyearbyen, Norway, in 2016. Heiko Junge / NTB Scanpix via Reuters

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