A disk-shaped cloud filmed over Bursa in Turkey on January 19, 2023, was widely reported and described as a “rare phenomenon”. About three weeks later, Facebook posts began linking the cloud to the 7.8 magnitude earthquake in Turkey and Syria, claiming it was caused by a former American military project called High-frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP). The claim is false; experts told AFP Fact Check it is impossible for HAARP to disrupt the weather in such a way that it creates clouds.
On February 10, 2023, a Facebook page called “Hope for Africa”, which has more than 400,000 followers, shared a TikTok video of a fiery-looking cloud with a large hole in the middle hovering in the sky.
“Was Turkey a test field (or victim) of the HAARP project?” the caption asks, before claiming a possible link between the devastating earthquake and the cloud – the presence of which “could … be an indication of a secretive HAARP experiment”.
A similar claim was shared on a Nigerian Facebook account.
“Many Turks are linking the mysterious cloud with the Apocalyptic loss of lives through the 7.8 magnitude quake. Others say America’s HAARP technology,” the caption reads.
A similar claim circulated in tweets published in Dutch and Japanese.
On January 19, 2023, what is known as a lenticular cloud was indeed spotted over Bursa in Turkey.
Numerous media including the BBC and the Guardian reported on the “UFO-like cloud” which appeared at sunrise and remained intact for about an hour.
The UK’s weather service describes lenticular clouds as “strange, unnatural looking clouds” that “form downwind of hills or mountains”.
“Lenticular clouds are a visible sign of mountain waves in the air,” an explanation on the UK weather service’s website reads.
Annemarie Hoogendoorn, a spokeswoman at the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI), told AFP on February 10, 2023, that Bursa’s mountainous terrain makes it ideal for lenticular clouds to form.
“Lenticular clouds can naturally arise from mountains, as is the case in Bursa … HAARP can’t do that, no one can,” she said.
The city of Bursa is in a mountainous area, about 36 kilometres from Mount Uludağ. It is also nearly 900 kilometres from the main area hit by the February 6 earthquake.
HAARP is a research programme that is run by the University of Alaska Fairbanks since 2015 when it was transferred to the university from the United States Air Force.
It uses the world’s most powerful high-frequency (HF) transmitter to study the ionosphere and the physical processes at work in the very highest regions of our atmosphere, according to the programme’s website.
HAARP has been the subject of multiple conspiracies, including claims about weather manipulation, which have been debunked on its website’s FAQ page.
According to the site, the radio waves emitted by the HAARP transmitter are not absorbed by the part of the atmosphere that produces the weather.
“Since there is no interaction, there is no way to control the weather,” the FAQ explanation reads.
HAARP programme manager Jessica Matthews also dismissed the claims linking the Turkey-Syria earthquake to HAARP.
“The recent earthquake and tragic loss of life in Turkey highlight the devastation that natural disasters can cause. The research equipment at the HAARP site cannot create or amplify natural disasters,” Matthews told AFP Fact Check on February 11, 2023.
Can humans control the weather?
There have been attempts to manipulate the weather, though on a small scale, through processes such as cloud seeding, where clouds are scientifically modified – through the introduction of substances that act as condensation nuclei – to improve their ability to make rain or snow.
This has been tested in several countries, including Mexico, the United Arab Emirates, China, and the US.
Also, there are ongoing studies into geoengineering technologies to combat the impact of climate change such as global warming.
Last year, the US government started coordinating a five-year research plan to study ways of modifying the amount of sunlight that reaches the Earth by reflecting the sun away from our planet with huge panels.
What causes an earthquake?
Earthquakes are caused by processes in the Earth’s crust and have nothing to do with clouds or the ionosphere – which is what HAARP’s research focuses on.
According to NASA, earthquakes are a result of movements in the outermost layer of the Earth, which is called the crust.
Numerous scientific publications explain that the non-stop movement of earth’s tectonic plates causes cracks or faults.
“When tectonic plates move, it also causes movements at the faults,” NASA explains on its website, noting that sudden movement at the crust then leads to earthquakes.
The death toll from the earthquake that has devastated parts of Turkey and Syria exceeded 41,000 as of February 17, 2023, according to officials.
The World Health Organization has described the massive earthquake as the “worst natural disaster” in a century in its Europe region.
Since the earthquake struck, social media platforms have been awash with misinformation which AFP Fact check has debunked, such as here, here, and here.