HAARP is an acronym for the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program, a U.S. military research project based in Alaska. The HAARP facility analyzes the ionosphere, an area on the outer reaches of the Earth’s atmosphere, for its possible communications and military uses. HAARP coordinates its research with scientists and universities around the world. The facility has also become a popular topic for conspiracy theorists, who link it to everything from chronic fatigue syndrome to global earthquake activity.
The HAARP project was created in 1990 as an outgrowth of military communications research during the Cold War. Work on the facility near Gakona, Alaska, began in 1993. The site was already owned by the U.S. Air Force and was chosen because of the high level of ionospheric activity in Arctic regions. Contractors completed construction in 2007 on HAARP's principal device, a high-frequency radio transmitter called the Ionospheric Research Instrument (IRI). The IRI consists of an array of 180 antennas spread over an area of 35 acres (14.16 hectares).
HAARP research focuses on the ionosphere’s natural tendency to reflect radio waves back to the terrestrial surface rather than allowing them to disperse into outer space. The program was originally intended to improve communications with nuclear submarines at sea. After the end of the Cold War, the project was redirected to other military and non-military research. HAARP scientists began using the IRI to manipulate the ionosphere and observe the resulting effects. A HAARP experiment in the early 2000's created the first artificial aurora borealis visible to the naked eye. Auroras are another natural effect of ionospheric activity.
In addition to the ionosphere’s effect on radio transmissions, and vice versa, HAARP scientists study the effects of the sun on both. Changes in solar activity and exposure alter the behavior of the ionosphere. A greater understanding of the ionosphere’s changing properties could aid both civilian and military communications. For example, Global Positioning System (GPS) devices can be affected by ionospheric activity, sometimes limiting their effectiveness.
The HAARP facility has become a lightning rod for pseudoscientific thinking and conspiracy theory. A lack of understanding of the project’s nature and the U.S. military’s reputation for cover-ups has led conspiracy buffs to gravitate to HAARP. Some critics contend that HAARP is actually a device for military mind control, while the Venezuelan media blamed the facility for Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake. HAARP’s actual scientific advances were at risk in 2010 of being overshadowed by the belief of some people that its purpose was to serve as a U.S. “super weapon” used to create earthquakes and tsunamis around the world.