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The Artic cold a green lining for social networks

By Roger Kalla - posted Tuesday, 1 November 2011

The natural advantages of being located at, or near, the Arctic Circle is multiplying for the internet-based global economy of the 21st Century. The countries straddling the Arctic Circle such as Norway, Sweden and Finland, as well as Iceland, Greenland and Canada are predicted to benefit from a rise of two to three degrees in temperature over coming decades providing net positive economic effects for farming, mining, transport and timber industries.

Sweden introduced a tax on carbon emissions of $150 per tonne of carbon in 1991 while simultaneously reducing the existing system of energy taxes by 50 per cent. As a result, multinational internet-based companies like Google and Facebook are spending their dollars on infrastructure investments in the cool and green regions of the world.

Facebook recently decided to establish its first server farm (i.e. a hangar full of computers to handle all the internet traffic generated by use of social computer networks) outside the U.S. in Arctic Sweden. There are several similar facilities located in the U.S. but the majority of Facebook user generated Internet traffic emanates from abroad.


When looking for a location for the first European-based facility it is reasonable to suppose one would look for sites that weren’t close to known earth quake zones or countries where severe weather events were likely to increase. Temperature rises resulting in long hot summers would rule out much of Southern Europe. The source of energy may also have been a factor in Facebook’s decision.

The massed computers in the server halls require a power source that is reliable and capable of sustaining power-supply to the tens of thousands of servers. One of the greenest sources of constant base-load energy is sustainable hydro power from the large rivers constantly fed by snow melt and rain fall which are found in Northern Europe, although Sweden also relies heavily on biomass and waste products from nearby forests.  

A basic requirement of the future server farm site is that itis close to a hydropower scheme capable of generating more electricity than the Hoover dam on the Colorado River in the U.S. state of Nevada. This power scheme is ,among other things, responsible for lighting up the nearby neon signs of all the casinos and gin joints in Las Vegas.

The decision taken by Facebook recently to place its first server hall outside the U.S. in Arctic Luleå, 1,000 km north of Stockholm, on the frigid shores of the Gulf of Bothnia and only 100 km south of the Arctic Circle, makes an interesting technologically motivated case for more such long term large infrastructure investments in the near Arctic.

There is plenty of cool air and chilly water to cool the server halls for most parts of the year. The average temperature during the peak summer month in July in Luleå is 19 C max/11C min and the yearly average is 5 C max/-2.5 C min.

The town itself supports a top Swedish Elite League ice hockey team and theLuleå University of Technology, which has studies of the Northern lights as one prominent field of investigation.


Luleå is also an export harbour for the iron ore dug up in the Swedish iron ore fields 400 km further north and linked by air, rail and road to Stockholm. In fact you can be in the newly opened Facebook server farm in Prineville, Oregon, on the U.S. west coast in 16 hours if you catch a flight from Luleå to Stockholm in the morning and onto Portland, Oregon by lunch time and in time for a 5 o’clock beer in Prineville, Oregon, local Pacific Daylight time. But of course it is simpler to communicate with Oregon via videoconference software freely available through the Internet.

The possible political repercussions of placing computer servers in Sweden, which allows tapping in on internet traffic if there is reasonable suspicion of illegal terrorist use of the internet for communication, has been raised by the Swedish Pirate Party whose policy is to protect the privacy of internet users from the prying eyes of Big Brother.

Pirate Party leader Anna Troberg had this to say about the privacy aspects of Facebook’s new server farm in Luleå, “Facebook isn't famous for caring about its users integrity, so they didn't care about it in this case either”. The Luleå server farm site is expected to open in 2014.

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About the Author

Dr Roger Kalla is the Director of his own Company, Korn Technologies, and a stakeholder in Australia’s agricultural biotechnology future. He is also a keen part time nordic skier and an avid reader of science fiction novels since his mispent youth in Arctic Sweden. Roger is a proud member of the Full Montes bike riding club of Ivanhoe East.

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