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Lauren's Science Corner: Weather As A Weapon?

"I got a phone call from two men who said, 'We work as consultants for the CIA, and we'd like to know if some other country was controlling our climate, would we know about it?,'" stated Rutgers University climatologist Alan Robock (one of my former professors) during a debate on the use of geoengineering to combat climate change.

At the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Jose, Calif., last week, Robock also revealed a another bit from that enigmatic call: "Of course they were also asking: If we control someone else's climate, would they then know about it?"

Geoengineering basically involves manually altering Earth systems. It has been proposed as a possible method to reduce the effects of climate change and can be applied in two arenas: reduction of solar energy and carbon dioxide removal.

Known as large-scale albedo modification, this technology involves adding sulfate gases to the stratosphere to reflect more incoming sunlight back to space, thereby inducing a planetary cooling effect.

albedo modification

Carbon dioxide reduction and carbon capture involves a number of proposed methods including the large-scale planting of artificial trees, or trees that have been modified to ingest up to 1,000 times more atmospheric carbon dioxide than natural trees, as well as the use of biochar.

A pair of major reports on geoengineering, "Climate Intervention: Reflecting Sunlight to Cool Earth" and "Climate Intervention: Carbon Dioxide Removal and Reliable Sequestration," were published last week by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, and the CIA was purportedly a major backer.

So, can the weather be used as a weapon? The answer's been tried!

"Operation Popeye" was a highly classified weather modification program used in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. Conducted by the U.S. government from 1967 to 1972, "cloud seeding" was utilized to extend monsoon season by generating rainfall.

Cloud seeding involves introducing chemicals, chiefly silver iodide, into the atmosphere. (Interesting fact: the use of silver iodide for this purpose was discovered by atmospheric scientist Dr. Bernard Vonnegut, the brother of author Kurt Vonnegut). The silver iodide acts as what we call "cloud condensation nuclei", and serves to enhance process of precipitation formation.

Cloud Seeding

The operation specially targeted the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a major military supply route for the Vietnamese enemy. The goal of increased rainfall was to soften road surfaces, induce landslides, and wash out river crossings. The operation successfully lengthened monsoon season by 30 to 45 days each active year.

In 1952, cloud seeding incited the opposite desired impact. Following World War II, England sought a weather modification method for addition to their defense repertoire. The Royal Air Force conducted a cloud seeding experiment dubbed "Operation Cumulus" near North Devon, a district in southern England.

The experiment induced a deluge during which three months' worth of rain fell in 24 hours. Ninety million tons of water swept down a narrow valley into the town Lynmouth, destroying whole buildings and sweeping residents out to sea. Some 35 Britons lost their lives as a result.


The U.S. signed an international treaty in 1978 which banned the use of weather modification for hostile purposes, yet a recently-shut down research facility known as HAARP has been the source of myriad conspiracies since its establishment in 1993.

The High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) was designed to analyze the Earth's ionosphere or top layer of the atmosphere.

Coronal Mass Ejections or bursts of electron–rich solar wind can interact with the ionosphere leading to the formation not only of the Northern Lights, but disruptions to satellites, power grids and radio communications.

Funded in large part by the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, and the University of Alaska, the program utilized a high power, high-frequency radio transmitter with a field of 180 antennas located near Gakona, Ala.


The core of conspiracy revolving around this Orwellian looking facility is that HAARP is a secret governmental superweapon with the ability to trigger hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes. In 2010, former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez blamed HAARP for Haiti's killer earthquake.

Some conspiracy theorists find HAARP culpable in the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster and the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370.

And our own former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura questioned whether the government was using the site to manipulate the weather or to bombard people with mind-controlling radio waves. Ventura apparently requested to visit the research station but was denied, showed up regardless, and was turned away.

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