‘Controlling the weather’?: The limitations of the HAARP conspiracy theory

The HAARP conspiracy theory overestimates the power of the technology in a research program in Alaska, science writer Mick West told the Truth or Fake team.
The HAARP conspiracy theory overestimates the power of the technology in a research program in Alaska, science writer Mick West told the Truth or Fake team. © Observers

Forest fires, floods and hurricanes ... for some, all the natural disasters we saw last summer are linked to the same thing: A secret, climate-controlling weapon supposedly belonging to the US army named HAARP. The Truth or Fake team took a closer look at this conspiracy theory.


From deadly floods in China to massive forest fires in Turkey, people online have been talking about the natural disasters we saw in the summer of 2021. But some, especially on TikTok and Twitter, are saying weather events like these are caused by something called HAARP, a so-called climate-control device used by the US government. 

HAARP stands for High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program, a project based in an observatory in Alaska that studies the upper atmosphere using radio transmitters. These devices heat up small parts of the air above the site.

But the science behind the program is complex, and has given rise to numerous far-fetched theories. The Truth or Fake team spoke to Mick West, a science writer who specialises in this type of conspiracy theory.

The way to debunk the HAARP conspiracy theory is trying to explain to people exactly what it does. Explain to them that it's just a radio transmitter that is in one location in Alaska and it only can affect a small amount of the air above it. Explain that the actual power used by this radio transmitter is very very small compared to what you would actually need if you actually wanted to do some of the things that are being suggested.

Still, some supporters of the theory believe there are HAARP devices hidden all over the world. They've even taken some videos out of context to convince others of the existence of this secret weapon. That's what happened with a video of an electrical installation in Brazil being torn down in 2017. Some said the installation was actually HAARP antennae. 

>> Read more on The Observers: No, this video does not show Brazilians tearing down an American weather-control weapon

The teams working on HAARP know about the many rumours and theories swirling around the project, and therefore try to answer as many questions as possible about their work. On the FAQ on their website, they answer questions such as "Is HAARP creating chemtrails?" and they even open their doors once a year to show people the work they're really doing in Alaska.

But, as Mick West explains, the idea that humans can control aspects of the weather is not completely far-fetched. Some countries, such as China and Russia, have been working on projects to control weather for several years. But, for the moment, we only have the technology to do things like creating rain or dispersing fog on a small scale. 

But "geoengineering", or the process of modifying the climate on a much larger scale, is an avenue that is being studied more and more. For example, some scientists are working on ideas such as spraying particles into the sky to block sunlight to combat global warming, or modifying the trajectory of hurricanes, but they haven't had very convincing results to date.