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GAKONA – One of the most advanced research facilities in the country is back open for business and wants to attract more scientists to the site. The High-Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) has been managed by the University of Alaska Fairbanks since August 2015. After staff got the facility out of its “mothball” state, researchers conducted projects there in February for the first time since the UAF takeover.
The facility’s main feature is the array of 180 65-foot antennas occupying roughly 30 acres of land near Gakona, Alaska. They act as a massive radio transmitter and allow for the study of an upper layer of the atmosphere known as the ionosphere. The work scientists do at the facility varies widely, but some can have everyday applications for things like long-distance radio communication and global positioning systems.
HAARP was originally built by the Air Force, Navy and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in the early 1990s. It started out with a small array of 18 antennas and gradually grew to the current 180. The entire facility is valued at $300 million, according to UAF. While the program was conceived through military funding, the site’s supervisor said it always has had academic associations.
“Where we came from to where we are now is due to some of the brightest minds in the universities. Not military scientists, but academic professionals,” said Marty Karjala.
Karjala has been part of the HAARP team since 2001. He performs a number of duties as site supervisor, including ensuring experiments go smoothly when scientists are conducting a research campaign. Doing so is not cheap; UAF charges $5,000 to run HAARP, which Karjala said is essentially “breaking even.” A large portion of the expense goes into fueling the five massive generators on site, most of which were taken from tugboats or rescue and salvage ships.
“These things are thirsty. At full load amperage, they can suck up about 230 gallons per hour of diesel fuel,” Karjala said of each of the generators.
HAARP is a mecca for those interested in studying the ionosphere. Karjala said that is partially because the facility is able to achieve a “spectrally pure signal.”
HAARP’s chief scientist, Dr. Bill Bristow, explained in an email to KTVA that “spectrally pure simply means that the transmitters produce a signal at the frequency we select for a given experiment and not a lot of harmonics or other unwanted emissions.”
Karjala said no other place offers the chance to study the ionosphere quite like HAARP.
“Information that we’re learning about our upper atmosphere is just– it’s valuable to all of mankind,” said Karjala. “We’re gathering information from a region of our atmosphere that we’re starved of data.”

HAARP has fame outside of the scientific community; it has a distinct reputation among conspiracy theorists who allege it can control the weather or people’s minds. Karjala said he occasionally receive calls and letters from people concerned about their work.
“Some of these calls are like, ‘Hey, can you help me to win a million dollars in the lottery?’ to ‘Please quit shooting down the space shuttles’,” said Karjala.
The university embraces the unique nature of the work being done at HAARP. However, it also takes the security of its employees seriously, especially after an alleged terror plot two Georgia men planned at the facility.
UAF is committed to increasing transparency at the facility and is encouraging the public to learn more about the work being done there. Its second annual open house is scheduled for August 19. Karjala said drawing more people to HAARP is important since he is the only person with his specific skill set. If more scientists become interested in conducting work at HAARP, the future of the facility is more secure.
“I would really love to see this facility turn into somewhat of that conglomerate where we have different disciples of science being conducted here,” said Karjala.
The HAARP site is not far from Glennallen, and Karjala believes boosting the number of scientists who have research projects at HAARP will help the economy of the Copper River Valley.
“If we’ve got 10 or 15 people that come within a two-to-three month period, that really makes a difference for the people that are running these small businesses,” he said.
The next experiments at HAARP are planned for the fall. However, if the facility only hosts two research campaigns in 2017, it will be far from achieving its maximum potential. Still, Karjala said he is optimistic about the future of HAARP under UAF management and that the number of campaigns will soon increase.
“To get back to that level where there’s science — just lots of science — being planned [and] being executed, it’s going to take us a couple years to get there, but I really think we will,” he said.


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