An archive Piql in a Spitsbergen coal mine

The Arctic World Archive has held a depositing event for data ingestion this month, following a prior one in February, thus providing an effective five to six months write latency.

Data is written on reels of Piql-format 35mm film and is claimed to be recoverable for more than 1000 years. The AWA stores the film reels of data in shipping containers in a steel vault, 300m inside Gruve 3 — an old coal mine at Longyearbyen, in Spitzbergen. This is the largest island in the Svalbard archipelago, located between Norway and Greenland, 965km south of the North Pole. This offline archive is marketed as the place to store the most precious artworks, cultural artefacts and data in the world over the very long term. Customers include the Vatican Library, the National Museum of Norway, the European Space Agency, Github for source code, and several global corporations.

At the event Piql’s Managing Director, Rune Bjerkestrand, said in a portentous statement: ”The data you have deposited today holds significance for communities around the world. Choosing to preserve these items and ensuring they will never be forgotten is passing on value to future generations.”

AWA archive entrance, Gruve 3 coal mine, Longyearbyen, Spitzbergen.

New data depositers included the Norwegian Armed Forces Museum with digitised photographs, Norway’s Natural history museum, an digital art collection, the National Library of Hungary, and the corporate history of Norway’s Tronrud Engineering — shades of a vanity project. 

We wondered if the read latency (restoring items from the archive) was five to six months as well. Not so. A spokesperson said: “If a client needs to retrieve their data, they make a request through our online platform, piqlConnect. The reel is then loaded on to a piqlReader at the vault and the files are made available online (or on a portable media device if the client wishes). … PiqlConnect is hosted in Microsoft Azure … and there is a high-speed fibre optic connection to the vault.” The film reel holding the data has to be identified and manually fetched from the vault before being placed in the reader. This process could take just 30 minutes, but is likely to take longer.

We also asked about prices but didn’t get anywhere. “We unfortunately don’t publish our prices as the needs of each client (including file preparation, cataloguing, archival actions, etc) vary from client to client.”

AWA clients can request a private deposit ceremony if they wish. The AWA says it won’t accept deposits from just anybody — it’s all very worthy.