I'm glad Herald columnist Tracey Barnett mentioned chemtrails and HAARP in her recent piece entitled Time to revisit small stories posing big questions because they're subjects I've been fascinated with since my visit to Spain in June. My flight landed in Barcelona and upon leaving the terminal building and then throughout the car journey into the city I was mesmerised by the dozens of white trails criss-crossing against the big blue sky.

Unlike aircraft condensation trails, these lines didn't dissipate and disappear. They seemed to be almost permanent fixtures - not moving, changing or fading in any way. My mind went back to when I first became aware of claims that chemtrails with a purpose were being laid across our skies.

While seeking online information about Christchurch's February earthquake I'd happened upon a site that blamed HAARP for creating the earthquake. While the hypothesis had all the hallmarks of a classic conspiracy theory it turns out that the HAARP project actually does exist.

HAARP stands for High (Frequency) Active Auroral Research Programme and it's a project funded, according to Wikipedia, by various agencies including the US Airforce, US Navy and University of Alaska. HAARP's website says it operates from an Alaska-based facility dedicated to studying "the properties and behaviour of the ionosphere, with particular emphasis on being able to understand and use it to enhance communications and surveillance systems for both civilian and defence purposes".


It involves an "Ionospheric Research Instrument (IRI), a high power transmitter facility operating in the High Frequency range. The IRI will be used to temporarily excite a limited area of the ionosphere for scientific study". And the ionosphere, in case you were wondering, is the "layer of the earth's atmosphere" that "begins approximately 30 miles above the surface and extends upward to approximately 620 miles". Got all that? No, nor have I really. Seventh form physics was such a long time ago.

So that's the official story. But conspiracy theorists say that HAARP has been developed for far nastier reasons than the wordy and impenetrable website would have you believe. Some people believe HAARP has been responsible for unexplained mass extermination of wildlife and that it has the power to trigger manmade earthquakes.

The phenomenon of chemtrails has also been linked to HAARP. It's believed in some quarters that these tracks in the sky may enhance the IRI transmissions. Still other people think chemtrails are evidence of high-altitude aerosol spraying which is carried out for various sinister purposes. Depending on which conspiracy theorist you favour, that could be weather control, biological warfare or mass mind control.

Chemtrails were explored most credibly in the documentary What in the World are they Spraying? about a process called stratospheric aerosol geo-engineering in which chemical dust is sprayed into the air in order to reflect radiation back into space. According to the official trailer this attempt to combat global warming comes at the cost of poisoning our air, soil, crops and drinking water.

It's been difficult separating fact from fiction on this issue but here's my best attempt. HAARP? It does exist. Can it trigger earthquakes? I have no idea but it has inspired a couple of great titles: specifically an article called Is baked Alaska half-baked? and a book entitled Angels Don't Play this HAARP.

Does a process called "cloud seeding" exist? Yes, it's a bona fide form of intentional weather manipulation. Has a terrorist organisation called KAOS created a dangerous weather machine? No, that was just the plot of the 1989 television movie Get Smart, Again!

Are chemtrails real? Some say they are but scientists claim they're just regular vapour trails prolonged by certain atmospheric conditions. All I know is the distinctive sky-tracks I witnessed in Spain are as intrinsic a part of my memories of Barcelona as the Seuss-like spires of Gaudi's architecture.