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NSF Grant to Boost HAARP

University of Alaska Fairbanks

A National Science Foundation grant will expand operations at the University of Alaska Fairbanks High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program or HAARP facility in Gakona. KUAC’s Dan Bross reports.

The HAARP facility was built by the US military in the 1990’s for $290-million to conduct ionospheric research related to communications, navigation, surveillance and other applications, but in 2015 the Air Force ended the program and turned the HAARP facility over to the University of Alaska Fairbanks. UAF has since operated it sporadically for government and independent clients.

“We’ve been charging a little over $5,000 an hour to use the facility,” UAF Geophysical Institute Director Bob McCoy said. “But we haven’t had very many hours, so it’s been costing us quite a bit.”

UAF Geophysical Institute Director Bob McCoy says a $9.3 million 5-year grant from the National Science Foundation will enable the university to maintain the HAARP facilty and expand operations.  

“Now we can open it up fully and invite in people to use it, so it’s a really big deal for us.”

McCoy says the HAARP station is the most powerful of three ionospheric research facilities on the planet. It uses hundreds of high frequency radio transmitters and antennas, to probe the ionosphere, and McCoy says it’s a tool that will be increasingly valuable for scientific experiments involving the aurora, as the solar cycle peaks.

“The next four or five years, the ionosphere should get a lot more exciting,” McCoy said. “You should see, in the winter, a lot more dynamic aurora.”

HAARP is also useful as a remote sensing tool, an application McCoy says is in demand as the Arctic warms and countries vie for control of it.

“We can actually look north several hundred miles from Alaska, and we can study the ocean,” McCoy said. “We can measure sea ice, and we can look for aircraft or ships out in the Arctic Ocean. HAARP can transmit, say, to the north, reflect off the ionosphere down to the sea ice, and you pick up that signal again either with an antenna or a satellite.”

McCoy says a separate grant will provide a million dollars to build and locate a LIDAR instrument at the HAARP site, for study of other parts of the upper atmosphere. That together with other instrumentation UAF plans to relocate to the HAARP site, will make up what’s being called: “The Subauroral Geophysical Observatory for Space Physics and Radio Science”. 

Dan has been in public radio news in Alaska since 1993. He’s worked as a reporter, newscaster and talk show host at stations in McGrath, Valdez and Fairbanks. Dan’s experience includes coverage of a wide range of topics, from wolf control to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and dog mushing.