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Page updated June 3, 2011
An Overview of the HAARP Program
The High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) operates a major
ionospheric research facility at Gakona, Alaska. As
you look through our web site, you will find many technical details about this
facility and about active ionospheric research in general. The web site also
contains descriptive material on the Earth's ionosphere and gives examples of
some of the scientific results obtained at the HAARP facility.
There is a strong connection between the ionospheric research conducted at the
HAARP facility and many practical issues that affect our everyday lives. All
long-distance high frequency (HF) communication systems, such as ship-to-shore
communications, transoceanic aircraft links, and portable systems used so
frequently in Alaska and other remote areas, operate by bouncing signals off
the ionosphere, a process often referred to as sky-wave propagation. By studying a small,
limited portion of the ionosphere directly over the facility, research at the
HAARP observatory is able to probe the nature of this dynamic medium, both in
its naturally disturbed condition and when artificially stimulated, with the
goal of being able to provide the fundamental understanding necessary to
enhance the performance of such systems.
Radio signals at much higher frequencies are used with satellite communication
systems such as the military's UHF satellite constellation and with navigation
systems such as GPS. In this case, the signals must pass through the ionosphere.
The performance of these systems can be negatively impacted by naturally occuring ionospheric
processes such as scintillation, fading and Faraday rotation. Research at HAARP is of
great value in studying and characterizing these ionospheric processes as well.
Research conducted at the HAARP facility can be classified as Basic or Exploratory
Research which is fundamental in nature, often resulting in discoveries
or significant broadening of the knowledge base. The eventual development of useful
technologies and applications or the improvement in the performance of existing systems
sych as those discussed above, is facilitated when it is based on a strong and complete
understanding of the underlying fundamental processes.
We like to think that when the apple fell on Newton's head, it motivated him to
think about the motion of heavenly bodies. Eventually, through a process akin to
fundamental research, Newton was able to derive
equations that described the orbits of planets in the solar system. He could
not foresee how his laws of motion could be applied to space flight or to
the launching of communication satellites.
Another relevant example is the fundamental research of chemists F. Sherwood Rowland and
Mario Molina who were studying the catalytic properties of halogen compounds in
photochemical reactions. Although not an initial objective of their research,
they published a paper in 1974 extending their investigations to conditions
existing in the Earth's stratosphere and came to the startling conclusion that
chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) being released on Earth would cause significant
depletion of the stratospheric ozone layer, thereby destroying our protection
against harmful solar ultraviolet radiation and increasing the risk of skin
cancer and other health problems. At that time, CFCs were used primarily in
air conditioners and as a propellant in hair sprays. Their conclusion was not
warmly received by the industrial manufacturers of such compounds and was
debated within scientific circles, but subsequent measurements made using
high-altitude balloons showed that the predicted depletion of the ozone layer
was actually occurring at an alarming rate. Fortunately, the international
community reacted to this environmental threat fairly quickly, and an agreement
was reached in 1987 to phase out the manufacture and use of CFCs. This
agreement has been implemented, at least in the developed countries of the
world, but it is too early to see any significant results. The latest
predictions, using sophisticated computer models of atmospheric phenomena, are
that the desired restoration of the ozone layer should begin occurring by the
year 2015. In recognition of their scientific contributions that alerted the
world to this serious environmental problem, Rowland and Molina were awarded
the 1995 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. This is a powerful example of how basic
research can yield significant, unplanned benefits for mankind.
Twenty years ago, the leading scientists in the ionospheric research
community were consulted to obtain their input and to help define the future
operating characteristics of the HAARP facility. Top research scientists continue to be
involved with HAARP's research program and with its educational and outreach activities.
The facility has been used for exciting new research and regularly produces
discoveries in ionospheric physics worthy of publishing in peer-reviewed
journals such as the Journal of Geophysical Research, Geophysical Research
Letters, and Radio Science. Since the first research campaign at HAARP in 1999,
well over 100 scholarly papers have been published in scientific journals. In addition, research
at HAARP is regularly presented at annual scientific conferences that include
sessions devoted to ionospheric interactive research, including those sponsored by the
American Geophysical Union held annually in the Fall and by the International Union of
Radio Science (URSI) held annually in January.
The question occasionally arises as to why HAARP was being built in Alaska.
Like Canada, Russia, and Norway among others, the United States is an Arctic nation.
If we are to make informed decisions concerning the use and preservation of the
region's resources and develop systems that are compatible with the unique
Arctic environment, we need knowledge derived from high-quality research
activities. The Arctic ionosphere strongly affects high latitude
telecommunication systems, and depending on solar activity and geographic
location, the natural variations in the ionosphere over Alaska can be
characterized as polar, auroral, or mid-latitude, leading
to wide variations in communication performance. The HAARP Facility is
ideally situated to allow the study of each of these conditions. More will
be said about this later.
In summary, the aim of research conducted at HAARP is to explore and understand
natural phenomena occurring in the Earth's ionosphere and near-Earth space
environment. This research is of considerable value for communication and
navigation system applications. Other research will examine the use of low frequencies
for underwater communications. But in the end, the goal of all the research conducted
at HAARP is knowledge. Knowledge is the fuel that powers our modern technological
society. While many of the potential applications of this research can be
foreseen, history tells us that many new and highly significant benefits will