Tuesday, 11 March 2014

HAARP: Weather Weapon or a Load of Hot Air?

by James Ormiston 

The HAARP Hype
A month-or-so ago the internet was abuzz with debates, videos and general head scratching concerning snow in America that apparently does not melt. Youtube quickly filled with videos of people taking lighters and blowtorches to samples of this so-called “plastic snow”, with all manner of theories attempting to explain the phenomenon. In the end the actual explanation was a simple misunderstanding of the properties of snow and how people were trying to melt it, but this did not stop one of the most vocal communities on the internet voicing their own interpretation of the situation: conspiracy theorists. The usual claims were made: that the snow was made by the government through chemtrails, that the snow contained chemicals and mind control agents to suppress the population and so on. One of the theories concerned a scientific facility which in the past few years has been blamed for almost every major climatic and seismic disaster on the planet. The facility in question is HAARP, an atmospheric research station in Alaska. According to many conspiracy theorists, the American government is using it as a “weather weapon”, capable of manipulating the weather and triggering earthquakes to harm people and countries that disagree with them.

"A "sky-punch" cloud, one of many rare but relatively well understood atmospheric phenomena often misidentified as being caused by HAARP."
There are entire YouTube channels devoted to documenting HAARP’s alleged effects and almost all of them involve abnormal clouds, lights in the sky and general out-of-the-ordinary atmospheric occurrences. It is worth noting, however, that practically none of the followers of the HAARP conspiracy are climate scientists. So why do people believe that HAARP is the cause of the world’s current climatic woes as opposed to something like climate change? One major reason that people distrust the work done at the HAARP facility is that it was built for atmospheric manipulation. This is true; the entire project was designed specifically for just that, but not at all in a way that would affect the weather...

The Numbers of HAARP
Let’s go through the facts of what HAARP actually is. HAARP stands for High-frequency Active Auroral Research Program. It is a scientific research facility based in a remote region of Alaska easily accessed on the Tok Highway. The facility consists of a 30 acre radio antenna array with a maximum transmission power of 3600 kilowatts at frequencies of 2.3-10 kilohertz. The facility is used by several major American universities. Its purpose is relatively simple: to stimulate and heat small portions of the ionosphere to investigate how it affects, among other things, radio communication.

HAARP radio antenna array
The array transmits a high frequency signal directly upwards over the facility which fans out as it travels higher through the air, passing straight through lower layers of the atmosphere without effect. Some of the signal is absorbed by the ionosphere whilst some is reflected back to Earth or continues into space. The signal absorbed by the ionosphere has an intensity of 3 microwatts per cm2. To put this value into perspective, the Sun constantly bombards Earth with electromagnetic radiation thousands of times greater. In fact, the intensity of HAARP’s transmission is hundreds of times weaker than the variations in UV input from the Sun that forms the ionosphere in the first place. 

One of HAARP’s major achievements was the production of very small artificial aurorae (the same atmospheric phenomenon as the Northern Lights) using this method. The aurorae produced were so weak however that the human eye would not detect them and so the facility relies on highly sensitive electronic monitoring equipment to analyse experiments, hence its remote location away from populated areas plagued with electric noise. 

Man-made HAARP aurora
HAARP only stimulates the ionosphere, not the troposphere (where our weather occurs), and thus has a negligible, if any, effect on the climate as the distance and differences in composition between these atmospheric layers are too great. Even in the ionosphere, HAARP is not powerful enough to do anything significant. The fact that natural aurorae can be seen with the naked eye whilst weak HAARP aurorae cannot be detected without electrical instruments is evidence for this without needing to consult atmospheric physics literature. If stimulating the ionosphere in such a manner resulted in dramatic weather changes, the vast solar/extra-terrestrial input of energy experienced every day would cause constant cataclysmic weather events. The “science” behind HAARP’s supposed abilities just doesn't add up.

Earth-shattering Claims
The story doesn’t end there though. Further claims blamed HAARP for the Japanese earthquake and tsunami of 2011 as well as the Boxing Day tsunami the decade before. This claim is more outlandish than suggesting HAARP affects the weather as earthquakes are said to be triggered this way by “heating moisture in the atmosphere like a microwave”. Firstly, there is no correlation between atmospheric temperature and seismic disturbance. Secondly, supposed evidence of HAARP being to blame includes the fact that increased background radioactivity is observed before and after earthquakes. The problem with this is that electromagnetic radiation and radioactive decay are two quite different things. HAARP uses radio waves, which are electromagnetic, whilst radioactivity is derived from decay of radioactive isotopes of elements in the Earth’s interior, which is released when rocks in the Earth’s crust are bent and broken during seismic events.

The Politics
So what can conspiracy theorists say to suggest HAARP is genuinely suspicious? Well, HAARP conspiracy theorists often cite the investors behind the project as evidence. The two major investors were DARPA (Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency) and ARCO (Atlantic Richfield Company). As a defence agency, anything funded by DARPA is treated by some as suspicious, and HAARP was no exception. ARCO was a major American gas company and employment source in Alaska at the time, looking to invest in HAARP so they could sell the gas needed to power the project’s arrays. Dr Bernard Eustland, a renowned physicist, was even employed by APTI, a specially set up subdivision of ARCO, to gain backing. Overall, it was a clever business move. DARPA’s interest was solely in the potential for improving military communication with HAARP’s radio wave research. This is why no patents were filed for the use of the facility as a weapon: because it is incapable of such functions. 

The Disappointing Truth
Regardless of the politics behind HAARP, the biggest criticism to conspiracy theorists is that it simply isn’t capable of meeting their claims. In sum, the “science” just doesn't add up. Adding a tiny drop to the ocean of energy in the ionosphere on one side of the world cannot cause earthquakes and typhoons with GPS-level precision on the other. As put by computer scientist David Naiditch: "(HAARP is) a magnet for conspiracy theorists...its purpose seems deeply mysterious to the scientifically uninformed.” Even if the rumours about HAARP were true, the so-called “plastic snow” observed in America can’t be the result of its weather modification for one important reason…the facility was officially shut down last year!