The Documentary: Dark Fibres And The Frozen North

Wednesday 1 May



If data is the new oil, are data centres the new oil rigs?

Far into the north of Europe, under half a year of darkness, where the landscape has inspired folklore and legend, are some of the biggest data centres in the world. The frozen mountains and deep fjords under the aurora hide the 'dark fibre' for the modern internet to function in the way we all want it to - instantly and reliably.

Ninety percent of the world’s data has been created in the last few years, and as a more internet enabled future, with AI and the Internet Of Things, becomes reality - data more than ever needs a physical home. This requires energy, and by 2020 some estimate around 20 percent of the world’s energy supply will be used to process data. This can be hugely costly, and damaging for the environment.

Norway, which became rich from oil and gas, thinks data mines might be part of a new economic future away from fossil fuels. Abundant renewable energy means it’s cheap to cool the hot whirring servers - the cold landscape also lends itself to housing data. We visit a huge data mine in a former mineral mine, next to a deep fjord, and hear how the data is pinged back and forth across the globe.

But it’s not as simple as that, as the Sami, the traditional people of the region, have found traditional lands in some parts spoiled by huge hydroelectric dams. Modernity and tradition live side by side in the far north of Europe, where legends of trolls in mountain caves sit alongside some of the most high-tech companies in the world.

  • Presenter: Katie Prescott
  • Produced by Sarah Treanor for BBC World Service