Robin Mayo, August 31, 2018
WISE staff and volunteers spent last Saturday up at the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) facility in Gakona, helping out with their open house. About 300 guests from near and far attended, and it was a fun chance to learn about some of the cutting-edge science that University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) is facilitating there.
Several locals asked me why WISE was there, and how we are connected with HAARP. The answer goes a long way back, right to the origins of WISE. In 2001, a group of local educators who had been talking about the need for environmental education in the area decided to get together for a meeting and make a plan of action. One of these people was Dr. Daniel Solie, a physics professor at UAF who had worked on Mt. Wrangell as part of a UAF Geophysical Institute research team.
At the time HAARP was operated by the US Air Force. Dr. Solie worked as an outreach educator for the facility, going to local schools with hands-on physics experiments. When the meetings led to the formation of a nonprofit to help coordinate and expedite science and environmental education, Dr. Solie volunteered to serve on the Board of Directors. Although he lives in Fairbanks, he served on the WISE board until 2014, helping guide the organization from an idea at a kitchen table to a busy organization with full-time staff. He still serves on the advisory board and is a generous donor.
Meanwhile, HAARP was going through some changes as well. The Air Force left the facility, turning over the keys to the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute. UAF was faced with the task of transitioning the facility to a University-run project, and one of the first priorities was making it more available for the public to visit and understand. If you have an instrument called the “Advanced Modular Incoherent Scatter Radar” there is a pretty good chance most of us don’t understand it, and would like to take a closer look.
Under the Air Force, HAARP had become the subject of a wide range of conspiracy theories. Armed with open minds, an eagerness to share the truth, and a sense of humor, UAF has held an open house every year, giving a chance to see the generators, control room, antennae array, and other facilities first hand. They have even designed a fun logo giving the facility the nickname “area 49,” which they print on t-shirts and shotglasses.
Adding a nice dash of serendipity, the Public Information Officer at the Geophysical Institute just happens to be an old friend of mine from Fairbanks, Sue Mitchell. In the 1970s we were riding our ponies in the Boreal Arboretum just behind the Geophysical Institute. So when they were looking for help in connecting with local resources for the first UAF HAARP Open House in 2016, Sue called WISE. We help with publicity and scheduling, suggest local resources to help with event logistics, and generally be there to help our partner with this big event.
Do I understand all the science that is going on at the facility just northeast of Gakona? No, not even close. My brain is not nearly big enough or stretchy enough to wrap itself around those cool feats of atmospheric physics and advanced electrical engineering. But I relish visiting the array and attending lectures by HAARP scientists, because their passion and commitment to a science which cannot even be seen is an inspiration.
When asked about the conspiracy theories, I like to repeat the answer given by Dr. Christopher Fallen at a talk on HAARP several years ago. He said that he couldn’t prove that they were NOT doing something, science just doesn’t work that way. What we can do is show and tell everything they are doing, and help people understand the real science that happens at this unique facility. For more information on HAARP, I recommend the Geophysical Institute’s website:
Who We Are
WISEfriends are several writers connected with Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment, a nonprofit organization located in Alaska's Copper River Valley. Most of these articles originally appeared in our local newspaper, the Copper River Record.