The deserted city of Pripyat, Ukraine, near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

Russian ‘Woodpecker’ photo used to HAARP on conspiracy theories

AAP FactCheck August 13, 2021

The Statement

A Facebook post claims to show the HAARP research facility in Alaska, which it suggests is the cause of climate change.

The post includes an image of a towering metal array in the middle of a vast forest alongside the caption: “The Cabal play with the ionosphere 24/7 creating multiple weather systems which are not natural. THEY ARE THE CAUSE. NOT YOU !”

The August 2 post, shared by Facebook users in Australia, had attracted more than 20,000 views and 680 shares at the time of writing.

The Facebook post
 A post claims to show the HAARP facility in Alaska, which it blames for unnatural weather systems. 

The Analysis

Alaska’s High-frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) scientific facility looks nothing like the post’s image, which actually depicts a disused Soviet missile-detection system near the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine.

The Duga – which translates as “the arc” in Russian – is an over-the-horizon (OTH) radar system built to detect incoming missiles at long ranges, typically from several thousands of kilometres away. It was dubbed the “Russian Woodpecker” during the height of the Cold War because of the disruptive radio signal it transmitted to locations as far removed as the Pacific Ocean.

According to a short BBC documentary, the Duga was one of three OTH sites in the former Soviet Union and is the only one still standing. It is variously called Duga-1, Duga-2, or Duga-3, depending on the source.

The same photo of the Duga site in the post features as part of a 2008 YouTube clip to highlight the “repetitive tapping” noise generated by the radar system – a sound which led to its woodpecker nickname.

A Shutterstock image gallery shows the Duga from multiple angles. The post’s photo has also been used in blog posts – here and here – while a Vice article details how the site has been used as a setting in multiple video games, such as the Call Of Duty series. 

A CNN report, which includes a photo gallery and video, describes the radar array as 150m high and 700m in length. Construction of the Cold War relic began in 1972 “as a way of mitigating against long-range missile threats”, it adds.

The Chernobyl nuclear disaster in April 1986 spelled the end for the radar system, which stands inside the exclusion zone. Today the radar site is open to paid tours, while Ukraine has declared it a protected cultural monument.

Unlike the abandoned Duga, the HAARP facility located near Gakona, Alaska, is fully operational. For more than 25 years it was a collaborative venture between the US Air Force and the University of Alaska Fairbanks, but responsibility for the facility transferred from the military to the university in August 2015, according to HAARP.

The facility’s main instrument is the Ionospheric Research Instrument, an array of 180 radio antennas spread over an area of 0.13 square kilometres. A photo can be seen in this brochure

According to Britannica, HAARP’s purpose is to study the ionosphere, the outermost layer of Earth’s atmosphere and an area of particular importance for radio communications.

Contrary to claims that the facility is causing climate change and unnatural weather systems, HAARP says the goal of its research is to “allow scientists to better understand processes that occur continuously under the natural stimulation of the sun“. The facility is also used to record long-term variations in the ozone layer.

HAARP’s website also debunks the conspiracy that it controls the weather in its FAQs: “Radio waves in the frequency ranges that HAARP transmits are not absorbed in either the troposphere or the stratosphere – the two levels of the atmosphere that produce Earth’s weather.

“Since there is no interaction, there is no way to control the weather. The HAARP system is basically a large radio transmitter. Radio waves interact with electrical charges and currents, and do not significantly interact with the troposphere.”

HAARP also rejects far-fetched conspiracy theories that it can exert mind control over people: “Neuroscience is a complex field of study carried out by medical professionals, not scientists and researchers at HAARP.”

Conspiracy theories linked to HAARP date back at least to 1993, several years before the facility became fully operational. A 1995 TV clip claims concerns about the facility’s impact on weather systems were first raised two years earlier, when the US Federal Aviation Administration reportedly began warning aircraft to steer clear of the airspace over the facility when it was operational.

Fringe websites, such as Alex Jones’s Infowars, continue to speculate on HAARP’s activities, while in the UK the tabloid press have also weighed in. An Express article from 2018 dismisses the conspiracies by concluding: “There appears to be no evidence to back up any of the wild claims, other than repeated online speculation.”

Meanwhile, NBC has reported on the baseless theory that HAARP was to blame for the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. The earthquake claim was debunked here by fact-checkers Climate Feedback.

In 2016, HAARP’s owner, the University of Alaska Fairbanks, held an open house to “show people (the facility) is not capable of mind control and not capable of weather control and all the other things it’s been accused of,” according to Sue Mitchell, a spokesperson for the university’s Geophysical Institute.

The Verdict

The post falsely claims to show the HAARP facility, when in fact its image is of an abandoned Soviet-era radar array in Chernobyl. It also repeats baseless claims that the facility is used to manipulate the weather.

False – Content that has no basis in fact.

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