by Ned Rozell
September 02, 2015
Since the late
University of Alaska Fairbanks'
Geophysical Institute has provided this column free in
cooperation with the
Ned Rozell is a
science writer for the
The entrance to the upper-atmosphere research station near Gakona,
which is now owned by
the University of Alaska.
now operated by UAF
after military bows out.
Instead of falling to the dozer blade, the High Frequency Active
Auroral Research Program has new life.
In mid-August, U.S. Air Force General Tom Masiello shook
hands with UAF's Brian Rogers and Bob McCoy,
transferring the powerful upper-atmosphere research facility from
the military to a 'civilian' university.
You may have heard
wrote a book about it
Jesse Ventura tried to
bully his way past the Gakona gate during a
TV episode of Conspiracy Theory
Muse recorded a live
album, HAARP, at Wembley Stadium from a stage filled with
antennas meant to resemble those standing on a gravel pad
off the Tok Cutoff Road
The science-fiction assertions of
caribou walking backwards, human mind control and HAARP's ability to
change the weather have made researchers wince. It's hard to
describe a complicated instrument that sends invisible energy into a
zone no one can see.
HAARP is a group of high-frequency radio transmitters powered by
four diesel tugboat generators and one from a locomotive. The
transmitters send a focused beam of radio-wave energy into
the aurora zone.
There, that energy can stimulate a speck
of the electrical sun-Earth connection about 100 miles above our
"Even though it's esoteric and hard
to understand, it's the best," said Bob McCoy, head of UAF's
Geophysical Institute, which now has the keys to the complex,
located off mile 11.3 of the Tok Cutoff Road.
The facility is the best tool to study a
region above Earth we know little about, McCoy said.
Of three such
ionospheric heaters in the world,
...HAARP (in Alaska) is the "most
powerful and agile of the three," according to Craig Heinselman,
director of the facility in Norway.
At an interview in his office on the UAF campus, McCoy said meetings
with others in the space physics community convinced him HAARP was
During a 2013 workshop with potential
users who study the shell of ionized plasma that coats the planet
from 40 to 600 miles over our heads, researchers said they would use
HAARP if the university took it over.
"(With HAARP), it is now possible to
conduct controlled experiments, versus simply watching and
waiting for the sun to perturb space and attempting to learn
from studying its response," Herbert Carlson of Utah State
University said during the workshop.
What's to be gained from perturbing
The ionosphere carries satellite and
radio signals that are disturbed during solar storms.
"With heat, we can create a
disturbance and watch how quickly it dissipates," said Bill
Bristow, a space physicist and the Geophysical Institute's point
man on HAARP.
"We can generate irregularities to
test the effects on satellite to ground radio systems. We don't
have to wait for Mother Nature to generate conditions."
Since it opened in 2003 with funding the
late Ted Stevens helped secure, HAARP hosted many scientists
doing applied research for the military.
One such study was using the antenna
array to heat a part of the ionosphere that in turn acted as a low
frequency antenna that could send an ocean-penetrating signal to a
That ping could tell a submarine captain
to surface in order to receive conventional radio communications.
"The military had specific
objectives, now we can do more basic science," Bristow said. "It
will help us with general ionospheric/thermospheric modeling,
like how do ions and neutrons couple in the upper atmosphere?"
HAARP is now open, but the transmitters
have been cool since spring of 2014.
With the transfer from the military to
the university, Bill Bristow and McCoy are now looking for
customers - scientists funded to travel to central Alaska on
two-week campaigns in which they fire the transmitters for 10 hours
There are no customers yet. But McCoy and Bristow are confident they
will be able to pay back a $2 million loan from the University of
Alaska statewide office.
That money is now keeping the lights on
at HAARP and funding other costs of operation.
Photo courtesy Todd Paris
The complex maze of antennas
and other complex
equipment used by HAARP researchers.
Bristow said the worst-case scenario is that few or no researchers
step forward and they are forced to sell HAARP instruments to
recover the loan cost.
Best-case: scientists use it, a national
entity sponsors the cost of operating HAARP (as NASA does for the
institute's Poker Flat Research Range) and,
"we run it as a research facility
The clock is ticking to repay the loan,
"I've got three years to find
customers," he said. "We're sticking our necks out here, but it
is the best in the world and somebody spent $300 million to