The Military Is Winding Down Creepy-Sounding Ionosphere Research in Alaska

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
May 15 2014 6:26 PM

The Military Is Winding Down Creepy-Sounding Ionosphere Research in Alaska

haarp
HAARP's antenna array.

Photo from WikiMedia Commons.

This summer, the Air Force is shutting down its High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program in Gakona, Alaska. The research station, which is also jointly owned by the Navy, DARPA, and the University of Alaska, has studied telecommunication and surveillance technologies in the ionosphere (the upper atmosphere) since 1993.

If you’ve heard of it, there’s a good chance that it was in connection to the numerous conspiracy theories that HAARP has spawned—like the time people thought that sudden mass fish, bird, and crab deaths around the country were attributable to HAARP research. "That's been a popular one for the last two decades," Michael Shermer, the publisher of Skeptic magazine and a columnist for Scientific American, told the Daily News in 2011. "It naturally generates paranoia, it's like Area 51." People have also alleged that the government uses HAARP to cause earthquakes around the world, and even that the project contributed to the “polar vortex” this winter.

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The station cost almost $300 million to build. It has 180 antennas on 30 acres of land that send energy into the ionosphere to study the flow of charged particles 55 to 370 miles above. The University of Alaska says it is interested in taking HAARP over once the military extracts itself, but according to the Anchorage Daily News, the school hasn't confirmed that it will pay the $5 million per year it will cost to maintain HAARP.

You can kind of understand how conspiracy theories around HAARP's research might start when you hear comments like the one David Walker—the deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for science, technology and engineering—gave in a Senate hearing about the closure on Wednesday. He said, "We're moving on to other ways of managing the ionosphere, which the HAARP was really designed to do. To inject energy into the ionosphere to be able to actually control it. But that work has been completed."

Great. That's not terrifying at all.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Lily Hay Newman is lead blogger for Future Tense.

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