What was claimed
Weather geoengineering and a former American military project known as HAARP are responsible for ex-tropical cyclone Gabrielle and the magnitude 6 earthquake that hit New Zealand recently.
False. The cyclone and earthquake in New Zealand were natural events, according to experts. HAARP is a US research program that uses radio waves to study the Earth’s upper atmosphere. It cannot cause earthquakes.
By Renee Davidson
Social media users are rehashing misinformation about the earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria, to falsely claim that weather geoengineering and a former American military project caused the recent natural disasters in New Zealand.
The North Island of New Zealand was battered for several days by Cyclone Gabrielle, before a magnitude 6 earthquake struck near the capital, Wellington, on 15 February 2023.
Much of the misinformation about the natural disasters in New Zealand claims that the earthquake was caused by a former US military project known as HAARP (High-frequency Active Auroral Research Program).
Similarly, social media users also wrongly blamed HAARP for causing the Türkiye-Syria earthquake.These claims have been fact-checked and rejected by experts as false.
Regarding the disasters in New Zealand, one Facebook user called on the country’s opposition to ask the government whether geoengineering was used to create Cyclone Gabrielle, and whether the government was “monitoring New Zealand’s HAARP machine and activities”.
Another Facebook post contained an image of a weather map of Australia and New Zealand. The text overlaid on the image reads: “The triangle highlighted on this map is the EMF [electromagnetic] beam used to direct the cyclone to New Zealand. This is geoengineered weather.”
The image is a screenshot of a video claiming the same misinformation that was shared on TikTok and has been viewed more than 23,000 times, receiving almost 1,000 likes.
Meanwhile, Facebook users are sharing a video labelled: “audio of intentional natural disasters in New Zealand - weather engineering. HAARP Radio”.
In the video, an unknown female narrator claims that it is “very easy” to use HAARP and weather engineering to create cyclones such as Gabrielle, earthquakes and other natural disasters.
But the claims are false. An earth science expert consulted by RMIT FactLab said the earthquake and cyclone in New Zealand were natural events, and rejected claims that they had been caused by weather geoengineering or HAARP.
Likewise, seismology and physics experts consulted by FactLab in relation to the Türkiye-Syria earthquake dismissed claims that HAARP had capabilities to create an earthquake.
According to New Zealand’s earthquake monitoring agency GeoNet, the epicentre of the February 15 earthquake was 50 kilometres north-west of the town of Paraparaumu at a depth of 54 kilometres.
Professor Simon Lamb of the School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences at the Victoria University of Wellington, told RMIT FactLab that the region was prone to regular earthquakes.
“This region is underlain by the Pacific tectonic plate which is sliding into the Earth’s interior. As this happens, the plate bends down and is subjected to forces that cause it to break internally, triggering earthquakes,” he said.
“There have been thousands of earthquakes in the same region in the past few decades, although most of them are small and hardly felt,” he said.
“In short, the earthquake was a direct result of plate tectonic processes that have been going on for millions of years,” he said.
Professor Lamb said there was no evidence to suggest that HAARP had caused the earthquake.
HAARP is a US research project that uses radio waves to study the ionosphere (Earth's upper atmosphere). In 2015, operation of the research facility was transferred from the US Air Force to the University of Alaska.
“My understanding is that HAARP is operated by the University of Alaska in Alaska to study the ionosphere. I don’t know of any programme like this in New Zealand,” Professor Lamb said.
“I can’t think of any way such a programme in Alaska could trigger an earthquake at over 50 kilometres depth in New Zealand,” he said.
Regarding Cyclone Gabrielle, Professor Lamb said it had occurred naturally.
“Cyclone Gabrielle is an intense weather system that formed in the tropics and moved south into the New Zealand region,” he said.
“Cyclone Gabrielle was a natural event, and is one of many cyclones that form in the tropics each year. I can’t think of any way that geoengineering could create a cyclone,” he said.
Misinformation spread by other social media users has also blamed HAARP for causing the recent Türkiye-Syria earthquake on 6 February 2023, which has killed more than 47,000 people.
Dr Januka Attanayake, a research fellow in earthquake seismology, geography, earth and atmospheric sciences at the University of Melbourne, also dismissed the idea that HAARP could be used to create an earthquake.
“[HAARP] has instruments for monitoring the ionosphere and there is no obvious link between HAARP and solid earth processes, let alone earthquakes. Linking the two is utter misinformation,” he told FactLab
Dr Attanayake emphasised that HAARP was a “research program”, not a form of “technology”, as alleged in the social media posts.
Professor Iver Cairns, of the School of Physics at the University of Sydney, told FactLab that HAARP did not have the capabilities to create an earthquake.
“HAARP involves sending radio waves into the ionosphere, which do not couple well to rocks and water,” he said, explaining that radio signals typically bounce off water, and are also reflected and refracted by the water and conducting materials in rocks.
RMIT FactLab has previously fact-checked claims that HAARP was used to create the Türkiye-Syria earthquake and found them to be false.
Thumbnail photo: Impact of ex-Cyclone Gabrielle on the town of Wairoa, New Zealand. Credit: ABC (Supplied: Hawke's Bay Civil Defence).
False. The recent cyclone and earthquake in New Zealand were natural events, according to experts. Cyclone Gabrielle was an intense weather system and one of many cyclones that form in the tropics each year. The February 15 earthquake that hit New Zealand was a direct result of tectonic plate movements. Moreover, HAARP, a US research program that uses radio waves to study the Earth’s upper atmosphere, does not have the capabilities to cause earthquakes.
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