Nearly three decades on, the chemtrail-HAARP geoengineering conspiracy theory remains popular despite lack of evidence and no scientific basis

Global weather is controlled by secret geoengineering programs using chemtrails and ionosphere heating facilities.
Incorrect: Weather forms mainly in the troposphere and is driven by energy from the Sun. Research facilities like HAARP only influence a small area of the ionosphere directly above them, which is tens to hundreds of kilometers above where weather forms and occurs.
Unsupported: There is no evidence for the existence of chemtrails nor is there evidence for the saturation of Earth’s atmosphere with any substances from chemtrails. The energy that research facilities like HAARP transmit to the atmosphere is billions of times smaller than the energy needed to power most weather systems such as mid-latitude cyclones.
While it is possible to change the Earth’s long-term climate through elevated atmospheric greenhouse gases, humans lack the scientific, technological, and logistical capabilities to control short-term weather events at the global scale. There is no evidence for the existence of chemtrails, nor for their claimed impact on global atmospheric chemical composition and physical properties. The Sun drives weather and sends far more energy to Earth than ionosphere heating facilities like HAARP can transmit. These facilities are radio transmitters that can only excite small areas of the ionosphere directly above them, whereas weather occurs primarily in the troposphere and all over the planet.


CLAIM: Global weather is controlled by secret geoengineering programs using chemtrails and ionosphere heating facilities. There is no natural weather at this point.


Can humans control the weather on a global scale as periodically claimed by viral social media posts? Let’s review the basics. Weather is short-term atmospheric conditions, while climate is long-term atmospheric trends. Changing the climate is a bit like water eroding rocks in a river; it’s possible but requires long-term effort. By increasing atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations over many decades, human activity has changed Earth’s climate and increased average global temperatures[1]. However, changing daily weather on demand would be like carving and cutting through rocks with a high-power waterjet. If it’s possible, it would require a huge amount of energy to pull off.

Weather is a complex, dynamic, and high-energy system driven by the 430 quintillion joules (430 followed by 18 zeros) of energy the Sun sends to Earth every hour. That’s more energy in one hour than all the energy humans can produce and use in a year. Using the recent film Oppenheimer for reference, it’s equivalent to nearly 7 million Hiroshima atomic bombs (blast yield of 63 trillion joules) exploding every hour to keep weather functioning as we know it.

With such stark difference in scales between human energy production and the energy pools and fluxes involved in the global weather system, it’s clear that controlling daily weather is beyond human capabilities. Still, one popular geoengineering conspiracy claims that we do already, and it has persisted from the early days of the internet to now flourish in the age of social media: the chemtrail-HAARP conspiracy theory.

In a recent example from 7 Aug. 2023, a video posted on Facebook presents this theory as part of a global geoengineering conspiracy involving a secret large-scale atmospheric program (SLAP). It describes the saturation of the atmosphere with chemical and metal particulates from airplane chemtrails which has supposedly enabled weather manipulation using a network of ionosphere heating facilities, such as HAARP. Having been viewed over 500 thousand times, this is just one of several social media posts on this topic that have become viral in recent months, such as this, this, and this. The ultimate goal, according to some proponents, is to influence global geopolitics through targeted weather events.

For a conspiracy of this scale to be plausible, many logistical, socioeconomic, governmental, and legal challenges would need to be first addressed. But by exploring only some of the physical aspects mentioned in this clip, this claim review demonstrates the insurmountable scientific challenges already invalidating the chemtrail-HAARP conspiracy theory.


No evidence for chemtrails and their supposed effects

The unidentified narrator in the clip begins by explaining that chemtrails are “what we see happening in the sky, this is weather modification on a global scale”. As a popular anchor point in geoengineering conspiracy theories since the 1990’s, the concept of chemtrails is inspired by a very real phenomenon called contrails. Contrails, or condensation trails, occur when water vapor and soot particulates from airplane exhaust freeze mid-air and form ice crystals. These are the long white lines crisscrossing the sky after planes have flown by. Differences in the level of humidity at the time and location of the airplane’s flight determines the visibility and longevity of its contrails, which is why not every plane you see will have them.

Figure 1Left: Factors in the formation of contrails. The moisture and temperature at the time and location of the flight determines the visibility and persistence of a contrail. Conspiracy theorists who fail to understand the physical origin of this variability use it as evidence of an ongoing secret chemtrail program (source). Right: Examples of persistent contrails that visibly appear different despite occurring in the same location. Scenarios like this are also used as proof of chemtrails, but in reality they appear different because they formed at slightly different times and at different altitudes with different moisture and temperature conditions (photo: Ron Smith).

Chemtrails, on the other hand, have never been demonstrated in any scientific study. Chemtrail conspiracy theorists generally claim that there are secret programs, whether run by government, military, or other, that use airplanes to spread toxic chemicals throughout the atmosphere. According to the theory, the cloud-like streaks in the sky that airplanes leave behind them are not just contrails, they can also be visible proof of chemtrails. But without in-situ sampling, in-depth investigations, or scientific studies proving chemtrails exist, distinguishing them from contrails remains a matter of faith. Aside from being used to enable geoengineering and weather control, chemtrails are also believed to be used as a means of mass sterilization, mass poisoning, and even mind control on targeted populations.

According to the narrator, this secret large-scale atmospheric program (SLAP) starts with spreading chemtrails to achieve a global “…saturation of the atmosphere with various chemical and metal particulates” which “…ionizes the atmosphere, makes the atmosphere more conductive”. But in a 2016 study which surveyed of some of the world’s top atmosphere experts, consisting of atmospheric chemists with expertise in condensation trails and geochemists working on atmospheric deposition of dust and pollution, virtually every single respondent did not believe there is any scientific evidence for a SLAP using chemtrails[2]. Even when assessing data that conspiracy theorists claim is proof of chemtrails, such as elevated concentrations of specific elements in soils, sediments, and water bodies in remote locations, the overwhelming majority of the respondents stated that there are simpler and better supported explanations.

In addition, there are no scientific studies nor any existing data confirming elevated global atmospheric, soil, sediment, or water concentrations of the various chemicals that chemtrails are claimed to spread. There is also no evidence of a more conductive atmosphere over the last two to three decades, and no scientific basis for the possibility of human activities to “ionize the atmosphere”. Atmospheric ionization, especially at the altitudes where weather occurs, is instead a result of the Sun’s radiation (extreme ultraviolet and X-rays) and the atmosphere being bombarded with energetic precipitation particles such as aural electrons, radiation belt electrons, solar protons, and galactic cosmic rays[3]. These outstanding issues do not support the claims made in this clip, which also fails to provide any references to data or studies that would support the claims made.


Ionosphere heaters do not influence the weather

The second component of the chemtrail-HAARP conspiracy theory involves the use of radio wave transmitters, specifically ionosphere heating facilities which are designed to study plasma turbulence and the behavior of the ionosphere and upper atmosphere. The High-frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) in Alaska, USA is the most famous such facility, especially for being a popular subject of conspiracy theories since its inception in 1990. In addition to weather modification events, HAARP has been also been blamed for recent disaster events like the 2023 Hawaii wildfires and Turkey–Syria earthquake. Originally a joint research facility of the United States Air Force and the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, HAARP has been operated exclusively by the university since 2015.

The narrator of the clip mentions HAARP in Alaska as being just one HAARP facility of “at least 18 around the globe, possibly with 3 more being built in Antarctica right now” as part of the SLAP. But regardless of how many facilities do or do not exist in reality, this theory overlooks several conceptual problems. Ionosphere heaters are radio transmitters and therefore only manipulate electrical charges and currents. As the storms in the ionosphere caused by the Sun do not interfere with surface weather, the far less powerful experiments of facilities like HAARP are a non-factor. HAARP can transmit up to 3.6 megawatts into the upper atmosphere and ionosphere with a transmission efficiency of only 45%. Even at 100% efficiency, HAARP’s transmission capability is negligible considering the 1.5 million megawatts of kinetic energy and 6 hundred million megawatts in latent energy produced by a single hurricane per day. Furthermore, HAARP’s high-frequency signal reaches the ionosphere at around 14 milliwatts per square meter (at 200 km altitude based on this example), almost a hundred thousand times less intense than the Sun’s natural electromagnetic radiation constantly hitting Earth (known as the solar constant, roughly 1.361 kilowatts per square meter). These are some of the reasons why this geoengineering conspiracy theory is baseless: ionosphere heating facilities like HAARP simply aren’t powerful enough to alter the atmosphere significantly  and influence the weather.

Almost all weather occurs in the troposphere where 75% of all the air in the atmosphere and almost all of the cloud and rain-forming water vapor are found. There is no known link between ionosphere heating experiments and weather behavior in the troposphere at the site of the ionosphere heating facility, let alone at the global scale. These facilities were intentionally designed for, and therefore technologically limited to, interacting with the electrons and ionized atoms and molecules that make up the ionosphere. They are not able to interact with weather related properties at lower altitudes, such as water in clouds in the troposphere. Spanning from about 80 kilometers above the surface of the Earth to the edge of space, the ionosphere does not overlap with the range of the troposphere (between 6 km at the poles to 20 km at the equator) according to NASA and NOAA.


Figure 2 – The layered structure of the Earth’s atmosphere, from the surface to outer space. The ionosphere spans from the mesosphere to the exosphere (left panel source; right panel source).

Even if we assume there are elevated “chemical and metal particulates” in the atmosphere due to chemtrails and that the atmosphere has been “ionized” by humans, there is still no explanation for how this will help ionosphere heating facilities affect global weather. While extreme weather in the troposphere can influence the ionosphere[4], there is no scientific explanation for how the transmissions from these facilities could cause weather events under this hypothetical “more conductive” atmosphere. And then, even if we assume there is a scientific explanation with empirical support, the energy required to counteract ongoing natural weather phenomena normally driven by the Sun’s non-stop solar energy would be enormous and beyond our capabilities. Afterall, ionosphere heating facilities have limited and well-known energy transmission capacities, and they can only heat up a tiny space directly above them compared to the planetary scale of the atmosphere. Again, even with 18 or more locations, there is no explanation for how these small experimental plots can expand to control weather across the Earth’s entire troposphere tens to hundreds of kilometers below. Despite the narrator’s unsupported claim that “the entire weather system globally is virtually being thwarted”, this geoengineering conspiracy theory relies on too many conceptual and theoretical leaps to hold any water.


So, can we control the weather?

It is a fair scientific and ethical question that deserves asking. In fact, with all the gargantuan challenges delegitimizing the chemtrail-HAARP conspiracy theory of global weather control, there is already a widely known example of attempted local weather modification. You may remember seeing Chinese military personnel operating cannons aimed at the sky during the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. They were on-guard, ready to perform cloud-seeding. Also known as “blueskying”, cloud-seeding is the introduction of small particles of, for example, silver iodide or dry ice to clouds to promote rain or snow formation by providing a surface for water droplets to collect on or ice crystals to freeze around. It is no guarantee of precipitation, but it’s interesting enough for the Chinese government to spend billions of dollars in cloud-seeding research to ensure agricultural regions receive rain when needed and large public events are sunny and cloudless. This approach was apparently used successfully to pre-rain the Beijing sky and reduce air pollution before the 100th anniversary celebrations of the Chinese Communist Party in 2021. In the United States, the US Bureau of Reclamation recently committed over two million dollars in 2023 to combat drought in the Upper Colorado River Basin using cloud-seeding.

But there’s a big difference from cloud-seeding in one single location of the world to give clouds a microphysical nudge in the right direction towards precipitation, and being able to cause or prevent storms, hurricanes, blizzards, floods, or droughts anywhere in the world and at any time. Even the effectiveness of cloud-seeding is still uncertain[5] with several potential unintended consequences, but at least it is a legitimate weather modification theory with a reasonable scientific basis for experimentation and evaluation. Controlling weather at the global scale, on the other hand, is currently far beyond human scientific, technological, and logistical capabilities. The chemtrail-HAARP geoengineering conspiracy theory is guilty of overlooking these limitations, making multiple unsupported assumptions, and ignoring the Sagan standard “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”.




Published on: 31 Aug 2023 | Editor:

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