Fact Check: Facebook posts – Turkey-Syria earthquakes were natural disasters, not geoengineered

Fact Check: Facebook posts – Turkey-Syria earthquakes were natural disasters, not geoengineered

Not long after two major earthquakes on Feb. 6 killed more than 40,000 people in Turkey and Syria, baseless social media claims alleged the earthquake was human-made.

Some users went back to a familiar conspiracy theory, blaming the quakes on the High-frequency Active Auroral Research Program, or HAARP, which is based in Alaska.

“What really happened in Turkey?” read a caption on a Feb. 7 Facebook post, which called the disaster a “scripted event” and said “they used geo engineering weather modification HAARP!”

The Facebook post also tried to tie the quakes to a strange-looking cloud that was hovering over Bursa, Turkey, weeks earlier. But that was a natural meteorological event called a lenticular cloud, The Washington Post reported. 

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.)

This month’s quakes were the deadliest in the country since a 1939 temblor killed about 33,000 people, The Associated Press reported. But Turkey is in a region prone to earthquakes and HAARP cannot control the weather and has nothing to do with the recent quakes, HAARP’s program manager and other experts said. 

“This region was a place of well-known seismic hazard, and has had many earthquakes in the past,” said Harold Tobin, director of the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network and a University of Washington professor of Earth and space sciences.

Antennas for the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program in Gakona, Alaska, seen here in 2007. (AP Photo/Mark Farmer)

What does HAARP do?

HAARP is a research site based in Gakona, Alaska. Researchers there use what they call an Ionospheric Research Instrument, the world’s most powerful high-frequency radio transmitter, to study the ionosphere, which is part of earth’s upper atmosphere. 

The site was created by the military in the 1990s and sits on land owned by the U.S. Air Force. It has been solely managed and operated by the University of Alaska, Fairbanks since 2015.

Perhaps because of its military start, HAARP has been the subject of numerous false conspiracy theories over the years, with people alleging that it can be used to cause hurricanes, control weather, and control minds.

Jessica Matthews, the HAARP program manager, said in a statement that the equipment used at HAARP cannot cause what happened in Turkey.

“The recent earthquake and tragic loss of life in Turkey highlight the destruction that natural disasters can cause. The research equipment at the HAARP site cannot create or amplify natural disasters,” she said.

Nor can HAARP equipment be used to control or manipulate the weather, according to a frequently asked questions page on its website.

The Ionospheric Research Instrument at HAARP is an array of 180 high-frequency antennas spread over 33 acres of land, capable of sending 3.6 megawatts into the upper atmosphere, HAARP said. The radio transmitters are used to heat small regions of the ionosphere, and scientists then observe the effects.

Research campaigns are run at the HAARP site two to four times per year, during which scientists collaborate on ionospheric research, typically for one to two weeks, a HAARP fact sheet shows. 

There were no active research campaigns when the earthquake struck Turkey. The most recent campaign concluded in late December, when researchers sent radio waves into space to bounce off an asteroid to learn about its interior. Researchers, who are still analyzing the data, hope the results could help defend Earth against a large asteroid strike in the future. 

There are also passive scientific instruments at the site that continuously monitor the natural geomagnetic environment and provide data available to researchers in real time, according to HAARP. 

What caused the earthquakes?

Wendy Bohon, a geologist who studies earthquakes and a strategic communication strategist for the Earth Science Division at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, said HAARP and the earthquakes are unrelated.

“We see this kind of conspiratorial claim after every big earthquake, but the fact is that earthquakes happen all the time, every day, ” Bohon said. “Devastating earthquakes happened in this region, and other regions around the world, before HAARP was ever even a glimmer in a scientist’s eye. Earthquakes are entirely unrelated to HAARP.”

Tobin said HAARP can neither create an earthquake nor affect seismic activity.

“Energy in the ionosphere cannot cause earthquakes nor affect faults,” Tobin said, calling it a longtime myth that “has no basics in physics or geophysics.”

So what caused the 7.8 and 7.5 magnitude earthquakes? They “occurred due to the driving force of plate tectonics,” said Tobin.

The earth’s surface is covered by a thin layer of hard rock called the crust, which is broken into large pieces that move around slowly in a process called plate tectonics.

“The places where the plates come together are the places where we have the most earthquakes,” Bohon said.

Most of Turkey sits on a tectonic plate called the Anatolian Plate. That plate is being pushed west as another plate, the Arabian plate, moves north, Bohon said.

The Anatolian Plate slides west out of the Arabian plate’s way along fault systems, including two of the bigger fault systems: the North Anatolian Fault system and the East Anatolian Fault system. The plates are locked together, but over time, stress and strain from being pushed out of the way builds up along these faults until the rocks break, causing an earthquake, Bohon said.

A 2018 earthquake hazards map published by the Turkish government shows the fault systems marked in red, Bohon said.

“Geologists have known for a long time that these faults can and will have big earthquakes,” Bohon said. “The question was never ‘if’ there would be earthquakes along these faults. The question was always ‘when.’”

Our ruling

A Facebook post claimed the earthquakes that hit Turkey and Syria earlier this month were generated by HAARP.

But HAARP research, which involves sending high frequency radio waves into the ionosphere for research, cannot cause an earthquake, experts said. 

Meanwhile, Turkey is in a region prone to earthquakes, and there’s no evidence the recent quakes happened because of anything other than natural causes. We rate the claim False.

Source: PolitiFact.

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