HAARP research facility to shut down

HAARP antenna array. (Photo by Michael Kleiman, US Air Force)

HAARP antenna array. (Photo by Michael Kleiman, US Air Force)

It’s been both praised and maligned. Praised by scientists as a tool to gain knowledge about Earth’s ionosphere; maligned as a secret means to develop an ultimate weapon. The HAARP resembles a giant radio antennae. It’s 180  towers are 78 feet tall and  have been beaming radio waves into the atmosphere since 1997. The facility covers about thirty acres of Department of Defense land just off the Tok Cutoff, not far from Gakona Junction. The news of its imminent shut-down has alarmed the scientific community. Bob McCoy directs the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute.

“We’re up here in the subarctic, and we can see how the sun connects to the Earth along the magnetic lines at high latitudes. It would be a shame if this facility went away.”

McCoy says there are only three facilities like it in the world.

“One in Norway and one in Russia. But HAARP is much more flexible. It’s got a wider frequency range, it can go something like less than three up to ten megahertz, and has quite a bit more power.”

HAARP and UAF research projects have been linked for years. And major universities throughout the US remotely access the HAARP facility and it’s information – Cornell and Rice among them. That’s why recent news that the Department of Defense plans to abandon HAARP galvanized McCoy and fellow scientists to make their case to save HAARP to the secretary of defense earlier this year.

“So a lot of us realize how important it is, how powerful, how significant the facility is. So we’re trying to figure out ways to keep it alive as an active scientific tool. Last March the National Academy did a workshop and invited in forty- something scientists to testify about the value of the science that has been done and could be done in the future from HAARP.”

 It is a question of money. In these federal budget – cutting times, the roughly four million dollars a year needed to maintain the facility is getting scrutinized.

HAARP is owned by the Air Force Research Laboratory, but was until recently operated by an Anchorage contractor, Marsh Creek.

Steve Floyd is the principal systems engineer for Marsh Creek. He says HAARP’s money woes started with last year’s sequestration cuts.

“Our contract through Marsh Creek to run the facility, came to an end in the middle of June of 2013. And I guess it’s the sequestration cuts that really squeezed the budget and the Air Force Research Lab decided to save some money and take it dark for a while.”

The HAARP facility near Gakona, Alaska. (Wikimedia Commons)

The HAARP facility near Gakona, Alaska. (Wikimedia Commons)

He says the cost cutting measures are ill-advised, because the research done there is valuable.  Floyd says the ionosphere has a strong impact on satellite communications, but not enough is known about how that works.

“So we’ re transmitting out with a focused beam, doing a very, very, very minute but detectable stimulation of the plasma of the ionosphere with these what are really very standard short wave radio transmissions, but it is just enough to do a cause and effect study of the ionosphere.”

Floyd says the research conducted in Gakona has far reaching implications for both military and commercial communications systems.

“HAARP is in Alaska because we wanted to be underneath a region of concentrated ionosphere called the auroral oval. And we all have marveled at the Northern Lights, and what that is doing is painting out this hollow ring of concentrated ionosphere, that’s caused by the Earth’s magnetic field. And we wanted to be underneath that auroral oval a good percentage of the time.”

He says there’s no better site than Gakona for the research facility. Bob McCoy agrees. McCoy and his fellow researchers argue there’s a lot more science to be done in Gakona. McCoy says there’s a possibility that the defense department could find an entity willing to share the costs of HAARP’s upkeep.

 The Air Force is paying for HAARP ionospheric research now going on through this month and in May of this year.  During that time, HAARP will be inventoried to determine if some of its equipment can be used to support other scientific activities elsewhere. Meredith Mingledorff, a public information officer with the Air Force Research Laboratory at Kirkland AFB in New Mexico, says in an email:

“The Air Force favors the transition of the HAARP facility to a basic research organization.”

But that depends on funding.  If no other organization can be found to pay expenses:

“The Air Force plans to decommission the research site…and initiate divestiture in June 2014.”

 The cost of the deconstruction has not been established yet.

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