HAARP: Is it really a climate weapon?

The HAARP scientific instrumentation complex is located in Alaska. It consists of an antenna field, radars, and magnetometers that can send energy into the Earth’s ionosphere and receive signals from there. Conspiracy theorists have long proclaimed it to be a secret US climate weapon. However, its actual purpose is quite different.

Система HAARP на Алясці
The HAARP system in Alaska

“Climate weapons” and the Earth’s ionosphere

“Secret HAARP climate weapon” is a phrase that can be found in numerous conspiracy theorists’ fantasies. Despite the fact that this topic has been explained by scientists many times, lots of people still believe that any storm that broke all the trees in their neighborhood must be a result of testing the secret American weapon thus named.

It is almost impossible to convince people that this is just a set of scientific instruments (albeit a really big one). After all, very few people have ever been to Alaska, where HAARP is located, and even fewer have ever seen it live. Not because it is particularly secretive, but because it is located far from tourist routes.

The explanation of HAARP should begin with the ionosphere, a layer of the atmosphere at altitudes of 60 to 600 kilometers above the Earth. The air here is too thin for airplanes to move, but dense enough to actively interact with charged particles. It is here that electrons and protons generated by solar flares collide with atmospheric gas molecules and cause aurora to appear.

Іоносфера Землі
The Earth’s ionosphere. Source: scied.ucar.edu

Scientists were especially interested in the so-called ionospheric layer D, which is located at an altitude of 60 to 90 km. Some of its parts are capable of reflecting electromagnetic waves of a certain frequency in such a way that they cover considerable distance as a result.

However, during powerful magnetic storms caused by solar flares, this entire mechanism is disrupted, and radio communication can disappear altogether. Until the 90s of the XX century, the idea of how all this happens was very approximate.

How HAARP works

It was to study all these issues that the HAARP project was launched in 1990. Its name stands for the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program. Back then, this program was really led by the research centers of the US Navy and Air Force. The military wanted to get reliable communication with submarines hundreds of kilometers away from the nearest repeater, and to do this, they needed to understand the dynamics of conditions in the ionosphere that affect the fate of radio waves.

Meanwhile a huge number of civilian research institutions participated in the program from the very beginning. Scientists were interested in research almost as much as the military and their results were not classified.

Антенне поле HAARP
HAARP antenna field. Source: www.af.mil

The idea of the HAARP experiment was simple: heat the ionosphere with low-frequency radio waves, just like the Sun does, and see how this affects the propagation of radio waves. For this purpose, they created the main element of the device: an antenna field of 13 hectares. Each of its elements is a phased array consisting of two crossed dipoles. The antennas are very similar to those used in the Ukrainian radio Uranus interferometer, but larger: each is 22 meters high.

Over the course of several years, the number of antennas was increased to 180. Unlike many radio telescopes arranged in a similar way, the HAARP antenna field can not only receive radio waves as a whole, but also emit them in a narrow beam.

The power of the emitter is 3.6 MW, and it operates at frequencies from 2.8 to 10 MHz. This is enough to try to cause a variety of effects in the ionosphere. In order to study them all, the system was supplemented with magnetometers, high-frequency and laser radars, and the entire complex was connected to a computer center.

Construction of the facility began in 1993. A few years later, it started operating at full capacity. The main scientific results were obtained in the early 2000s. By 2007, the military received its communication system, but continued to manage the project for several more years. It cost about $250 million.

Наукові прилади
Scientific instruments. Source: Wikipedia

In 2013, the U.S. Air Force and Navy finally lost interest in HAARP and announced that it would be transferred to civilians. In 2013-14, the DARPA Advanced Research Projects Agency completed some of its research there, but in 2015 the entire complex was transferred to the University of Alaska, and since then it has been heating the Earth’s ionosphere much less frequently because scientists do not have so much money for electricity.

However, this does not mean that HAARP is idle. For example, in 2022, scientists conducted a series of experiments, irradiating the Moon and Jupiter with it. In the first case, the potential of using it to observe near-Earth asteroids was proven. In the second, the magnetosphere of the largest planet in the Solar System was studied.

Could HAARP be used a climate weapon?

The idea of climate weapons is much older than HAARP. Back in the 1960s, the Americans came up with the idea of seeding clouds with silver iodide so that they would instantly fall in a shower over enemy positions. It is not some advanced technology space, and it has since been used many times, including in Ukraine, to ensure sunny weather during parades — we just make all unwanted clouds fall as rain or snow on fields in the distance.

Розпилювання йодиду срібла
Spraying silver iodide. Source: static.bangkokpost.com

The military use of weather control technologies is practically limited to this, though science enthusiasts never give up inventing the ways to control clouds by irradiating them with something. At first glance, the idea is absolutely logical, because even the most powerful hurricanes are just a combination of heated air and moisture. But so far no one even thought of the ways to use this knowledge to cause storms and droughts over the enemy’s territory — as they realized that this would require the energy of all the Earth’s power plants. Nevertheless ardent conspiracy theorists have since been absolutely certain that such experiments were definitely carried out on both sides of the Iron Curtain.

The claim that HAARP is actually a climate weapon was first made in 1996. Since then, this horror-story is roaming around the tabloids, even though the military has not used the facility for 10 years.

Over the past years, journalists, politicians, and even scientists have been telling us much about HAARP. Gradually, the scarecrow of influencing a group of clouds evolved into a scenario of changing the climate on the entire planet. It was repeatedly suggested that the antenna array could cause earthquakes. Russians claimed that the magnetic poles were shifting. And even one of the governors of Alaska once said that the device could turn the atmosphere over the state into a giant lens that would focus sunlight, causing fires.

Як уявляють роботу HAARP конспірологи
HAARP at work as imagined by conspiracy theorists. Source: stirilebzi.ro

Refuting all these absurd rumors is based on only two simple facts. The first is that HAARP has too little power to do anything of the things that are attributed to it. 3.6 MW is less than even some lightning bolts. What can we say about solar flares, which cover our planet regularly, transmitting much more energy to the atmosphere than this modest facility. By the way, the experiments on it took place exclusively at night, because during the day the result of its work was simply lost in the sunlight.

The second fact is that HAARP affects the ionosphere, which is located well above the layer where clouds move and the vast majority of climatic processes take place. And even it did not absorb all of its radiation — most of it was lost in outer space. So it does not make sense even to start discussing any impact on earthquakes that occur in the depths of the earth’s crust even further from the place of exposure.

Similar facilities in other countries

The funniest thing about conspiracy theories about HAARP is that it is not actually the only such facility on Earth. Studies of the ionosphere by irradiating it began before the 1990s. For example, Sura, located in Russia, has a slightly smaller capacity. It was built in 1963 in the Nizhny Novgorod region. It is also a field of dipole antennas measuring 300×300 meters. And its purpose is the same: to heat the ionosphere with radio waves. It is not surprising that they also talk about it as if it were a climate weapon and other similar nonsense.

Комплекс «Сура»
The Sura complex. Source: alchetron.com

By the way, in the 1980s, American radio amateurs were terrified of another radio signal source called the “Russian woodpecker”. It was also said to be a climate weapon. However, it was not Sura, but Chornobyl-2, also known as Duga. Now, anyone can behold it in the Chornobyl exclusion zone (which is a tourist destination now) and make sure that it is just an extremely powerful horizon radar.

All in all, there are many ionospheric emitters all over the planet — albeit not as powerful. Two more were built in Norway, two in the United States, and one in Tajikistan. There is a similar facility in Ukraine. It is located in the Kharkiv region near the city of Zmiiv and belongs to the Institute of Ionosphere of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine and the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine. It consists of two round antennas. One is stationary and has a diameter of 100 meters. The second can rotate and has a diameter of 25 meters.

The fate of all such projects around the world is actually quite sad. In fact, they are unique research facilities that require enough energy to power a small city. And they are of little practical use, as they literally heat the skies. So it is not surprising that most of the time they stand idle and deteriorate.