Aside from Arctic enthusiasts, not many people know about Svalbard. Part of an archipelago, the Norwegian island has few year-round inhabitants and more polar bears than humans. Its major association has been with coal mining and Arctic exploration, but now cryptocurrency is touching one of the world’s least-peopled locations. Regulated by the international Svalbard Treaty as a demilitarized zone, it is considered one of the most geopolitically stable human habitations in the world.
The island already hosts the Global Seed Vault, which is a repository of an enormous variety of plant seeds, held as “duplicate samples” should the world need them one day. In case of regional or global crises, local seed banks may be compromised or destroyed, hence the need for storage in such a remote location. A tunnel leading into the seed bank is 120 meters, or 390 feet long, leading into the inside of a sandstone mountain, and is heat sealed to exclude moisture. The location was chosen because the area lacks tectonic activity and its existing permafrost aids in preservation. 130 meters (430 ft.) above sea level, the site of the vault will remain dry even if the ice caps melt.
Taking inspiration from the seed vault, the tech world is likewise constructing a repository a mile away from the Global Seed Vault, in a decommissioned mine shaft. The mission of the GitHub Archive Program is to preserve open-source software for the foreseeable and unforeseeable future. Partnering with numerous foundations and world-renown libraries, the program will store multiple copies, on an ongoing basis and in varied data formats, as well as a very-long-term archive designed to last over 1,000 years. A “snapshot” of the myriad code will be copied onto film reels and stored in a steel container.
The vault will also be 250 ft. inside of a mountain, and will include Bitcoin Core, the most popular code implementation of bitcoin’s infrastructure, which is also one of the most accessed repositories on GitHub. The official deposit into the mountain is slated for late April, but there is no word yet on whether the date will be pushed back due to coronavirus measures.
Though Bitcoin Core is featured, the majority of other cryptocurrency projects on GitHub will also be included, such as bitcoin’s future-forward Lightning Network, as well as infrastructure code for other cryptocurrencies such as etherium and dogecoin. The current electronic record is quite fragile and apt toward disruption, therefore having a hard copy can help avoid a hole in history. A terrifying amount of the world’s data is stored on ephemeral media, such as SSDs, CDs online reliable for a few decades, and backup tapes, all of which assume a maximum 30-year lifespan in controlled temperature and humidity environments. If cryptocurrency manages to last a millennium, this will aid people 1,000 years from now in figuring out how it evolved, or if it is supplanted, to learn what cryptocurrency was.