Secret US Military Documents Reveal a Constellation of American Military Bases Across Africa

Gen. Thomas Waldhauser sounded a little uneasy. “I would just say, they are on the ground. They are trying to influence the action,” commentedthe chief of US Africa Command (AFRICOM) at a Pentagon press briefing in March, when asked about Russian military personnel operating in North Africa. “We watch what they do with great concern.”

And Russians aren’t the only foreigners on Waldhauser’s mind. He’s also wary of a Chinese “military base” being built not far from Camp Lemonnier, a large US facility in the tiny, sun-blasted nation of Djibouti. “They’ve never had an overseas base, and we’ve never had a base of…a peer competitor as close as this one happens to be,” he said. “There are some very significant…operational security concerns.”

At that press conference, Waldhauser mentioned still another base, an American one exposed by The Washington Post last October in an articletitled “U.S. has secretly expanded its global network of drone bases to North Africa.” Five months later, the AFRICOM commander still sounded aggrieved. “The Washington Post story that said ‘flying from a secret base in Tunisia.’ It’s not a secret base and it’s not our base…. We have no intention of establishing a base there.”

Waldhauser’s insistence that the United States had no base in Tunisia relied on a technicality, since that foreign airfield clearly functions as an American outpost. For years, AFRICOM has peddled the fiction that Djibouti is the site of its only “base” in Africa. “We continue to maintain one forward operating site on the continent, Camp Lemonnier,” reads the command’s 2017 posture statement. Spokespeople for the command regularly maintain that any other US outposts are few and transitory—“expeditionary,” in military parlance.

While the United States maintains a vast empire of military installations around the world, with huge—and hard-to-miss—complexes throughout Europe and Asia, bases in Africa have been far better hidden. And if you listened only to AFRICOM officials, you might even assume that the US military’s footprint in Africa will soon be eclipsed by that of the Chinese or the Russians.

Highly classified internal AFRICOM files offer a radically different picture. A set of previously secret documents, obtained by TomDispatch via the Freedom of Information Act, offers clear evidence of a remarkable, far-ranging, and expanding network of outposts strung across the continent. In official plans for operations in 2015 that were drafted and issued the year before, AFRICOM lists 36 US outposts scattered across 24 African countries. These include low-profile locations—from Kenya to South Sudan to a shadowy Libyan airfield—that have never previously been mentioned in published reports. Today, according to an AFRICOM spokesperson, the number of these sites has actually swelled to 46, including “15 enduring locations.” The newly disclosed numbers and redacted documents contradict more than a decade’s worth of dissembling by AFRICOM and shed new light on a constellation of bases integral to expanding US military operations on the African continent and in the Middle East.

A map of US military bases—forward operating sites, cooperative security locations, and contingency locations—across the African continent in 2014, from declassified AFRICOM planning documents (Nick Turse / TomDispatch).


AFRICOM failed to respond to repeated requests for further information about the 46 bases, outposts, and staging areas currently dotting the continent. Nonetheless, the newly disclosed 2015 plans offer unique insights into the wide-ranging network of outposts, a constellation of bases that already provided the US military with unprecedented continental reach.

Those documents divide US bases into three categories: forward operating sites (FOSes), cooperative security locations (CSLs), and contingency locations (CLs). “In total, [the fiscal year 20]15 proposed posture will be 2 FOSes, 10 CSLs, and 22 CLs” state the documents. By spring 2015, the number of CSLs had already increased to 11, according to then–AFRICOM chief Gen. David Rodriguez, in order to allow US crisis-response forces to reach potential hot spots in West Africa. An appendix to the plan, also obtained by TomDispatch, actually lists 23 CLs, not 22. Another appendix mentions one additional contingency location.

These outposts—of which forward operating sites are the most permanent and contingency locations the least so—form the backbone of US military operations on the continent and have been expanding at a rapid rate, particularly since the September 2012 attack on the US mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed US Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. The plans also indicate that the US military regularly juggles locations, shuttering sites and opening others, while upgrading contingency locations to cooperative security locations in response to changing conditions like, according to the documents, “increased threats emanating from the East, North-West, and Central regions” of the continent.

AFRICOM’s 2017 posture statement notes, for example, a recent round of changes to the command’s inventory of posts. The document explains that the US military “closed five contingency locations and designated seven new contingency locations on the continent due to shifting requirements and identified gaps in our ability to counter threats and support ongoing operations.” Today, according to AFRICOM spokesman Chuck Prichard, the total number of sites has jumped from the 36 cited in the 2015 plans to 46—a network now consisting of two forward operating sites, 13 cooperative security locations, and 31 contingency locations.


AFRICOM’s sprawling network of bases is crucial to its continent-wide strategy of training the militaries of African proxies and allies and conducting a multi-front campaign aimed at combating a disparate and spreading collection of terror groups. The command’s major areas of effort involve: a shadow war against the militant group al-Shabaab in Somalia (a long-term campaign, ratcheting up in the Trump era, with no end in sight); attempts to contain the endless fallout from the 2011 US and allied military intervention that ousted Libyan dictator Moammar El-Gadhafi (a long-term effort with no end in sight); the neutralizing of “violent extremist organizations” across northwest Africa, the lands of the Sahel and Maghreb (a long-term effort with no end in sight); the degradation of the Islamist militant group Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin nations of Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, and Chad (a long-term effort—to the tune of $156 millionlast year alone in support of regional proxies there—with no end in sight); countering piracy in the Gulf of Guinea (a long-term effort with no end in sight); and winding down the wildly expensive effort to eliminate Joseph Kony and his murderous Lord’s Resistance Army in Central Africa (both live on, despite a long-term US effort).

The US military’s multiplying outposts are also likely to prove vital to the Trump administration’s expanding wars in the Middle East. African bases have long been essential, for instance, to Washington’s ongoing shadow war in Yemen, which has seen a significant increase in drone strikes under the Trump administration. They have also been integral to operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, where a substantial (and deadly) uptick in US airpower (and civilian casualties) has been evident in recent months.

In 2015, AFRICOM spokesman Anthony Falvo noted that the command’s “strategic posture and presence are premised on the concept of a tailored, flexible, light footprint that leverages and supports the posture and presence of partners and is supported by expeditionary infrastructure.” The declassified secret documents explicitly state that America’s network of African bases is neither insignificant nor provisional. “USAFRICOM’s posture requires a network of enduring and non-enduring locations across the continent,” say the 2015 plans. “A developed network of FOSes, CSLs, and non-enduring CLs in key countries…is necessary to support the command’s operations and engagements.”

According to the files, AFRICOM’s two forward operating sites are Djibouti’s Camp Lemonnier and a base on the United Kingdom’s Ascension Island off the west coast of Africa. Described as “enduring locations” with a sustained troop presence and “U.S.-owned real property,” they serve as hubs for staging missions across the continent and for supplying the growing network of outposts there.

Lemonnier, the crown jewel of America’s African bases, has expanded from 88 acres to about 600 acres since 2002, and in those years the number of personnel there has increased exponentially as well. “Camp Lemonnier serves as a hub for multiple operations and security cooperation activities,” reads AFRICOM’s 2017 posture statement. “This base is essential to U.S. efforts in East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.” Indeed, the formerly secret documents note that the base supports “U.S operations in Somalia CT [counterterrorism], Yemen CT, Gulf of Aden (counter-piracy), and a wide range of Security Assistance activities and programs throughout the region.”

In 2015, when he announced the increase in cooperative security locations, then–AFRICOM chief David Rodriguez mentioned Senegal, Ghana, and Gabon as staging areas for the command’s rapid-reaction forces. Last June, outgoing US Army Africa commander Maj. Gen. Darryl Williams drew attention to a CSL in Uganda and one being set up in Botswana, adding, “We have very austere, lean, lily pads, if you will, all over Africa now.”

CSL Entebbe in Uganda has, for example, long been an important air basefor American forces in Africa, serving as a hub for surveillance aircraft. It also proved integral to Operation Oaken Steel, the July 2016 rapid deployment of troops to the US Embassy in Juba, South Sudan, as that failed state (and failed US nation-building effort) sank into yet more violence.

Libreville, Gabon, is listed in the documents as a “proposed CSL,” but was actually used in 2014 and 2015 as a key base for Operation Echo Casemate, the joint US-French-African military response to unrest in the Central African Republic.

AFRICOM’s 2015 plan also lists cooperative security locations in Accra, Ghana; Gaborone, Botswana; Dakar, Senegal; Douala, Cameroon; Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso; and Mombasa, Kenya. While officially defined by the military as temporary locales capable of being scaled up for larger operations, any of these CSLs in Africa “may also function as a major logistics hub,” according to the documents.


The formerly secret AFRICOM files note that the command has designated five contingency locations as “semi-permanent,” 13 as “temporary,” and four as “initial.” These include a number of sites that have never previously been disclosed, including outposts in several countries that were actually at war when the documents were created. Listed among the CLs, for instance, is one in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, already in the midst of an ongoing civil war in 2014; one in Bangui, the capital of the periodically unstable Central African Republic; and another in Al-Wigh, a Saharan airfield in southern Libya located near that country’s borders with Niger, Chad, and Algeria.

Officially classified as “non-enduring” locations, CLs are nonetheless among the most integral sites for US operations on the continent. Today, according to AFRICOM’s Prichard, the 31 contingency locations provide “access to support partners, counter threats, and protect U.S. interests in East, North, and West Africa.”

AFRICOM did not provide the specific locations of the current crop of CLs, stating only that they “strive to increase access in crucial areas.” The 2015 plans, however, provide ample detail on the areas that were most important to the command at that time. One such site is Camp Simba in Manda Bay, Kenya, also mentioned in a 2013 internal Pentagon study on secret drone operations in Somalia and Yemen. At least two manned surveillance aircraft were based there at the time.

Chabelley Airfield in Djibouti is also mentioned in AFRICOM’s 2015 plan. Once a spartan French Foreign Legion post, it has undergone substantial expansion in recent years as US drone operations in that country were moved from Camp Lemonnier to this more remote location. It soon became a regional hub for unmanned aircraft not just for Africa but also for the Middle East. By the beginning of October 2015, for example, drones flown from Chabelley had already logged more than 24,000 hours of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions and were also, according to the Air Force, “responsible for the neutralization of 69 enemy fighters, including five high-valued individuals” in the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

AFRICOM’s inventory of CLs also includes sites in Nzara, South Sudan; Arlit, Niger; both Bamako and Gao, Mali; Kasenyi, Uganda; Victoria, the capital of the Seychelles; Monrovia, Liberia; Ouassa and Nema, Mauritania; Faya Largeau, Chad; Bujumbura, Burundi; Lakipia, the site of a Kenyan Air Force base; and another Kenyan airfield at Wajir that was upgraded and expanded by the US Navy earlier in this decade, as well as an outpost in Arba Minch, Ethiopia, that was reportedly shuttered in 2015 after nearly five years of operation.

A longtime contingency location in Niamey, the capital of Niger, has seen marked growth in recent years as has a more remote location, a Nigerien military base at Agadez, listed among the “proposed” CSLs in the AFRICOM documents. The United States is, in fact, pouring $100 million into building up the base, according to a 2016 investigation by The Intercept. N’Djamena, Chad, the site of yet another “proposed CSL,” has actually been used by the US military for years. Troops and a drone were dispatchedthere in 2014 to aid in operations against Boko Haram and “base camp facilities” were constructed there, too.

The list of proposed CLs also includes sites in Berbera, a town in the self-declared Republic of Somaliland, and in Mogadishu, the capital of neighboring Somalia (another locale used by American troops for years), as well as the towns of Baidoa and Bosaso. These or other outposts are likely to play increasingly important roles as the Trump administration ramps up its military activities in Somalia, the long-failed state that saw 18 US personnel killed in the disastrous “Black Hawk Down” mission of 1993. Last month, for instance, President Trump relaxed rules aimed at preventing civilian casualties when the United States conducts drone strikes and commando raids in that country and so laid the foundation for a future escalation of the war against al-Shabaab there. This month, AFRICOM confirmed that dozens of soldiers from the Army’s 101st Airborne Division, a storied light infantry unit, would be deployed to that same country in order to train local forces to, as a spokesperson put it, “better fight” al-Shabaab.

Many other sites previously identified as US outposts or staging areas are not listed in AFRICOM’s 2015 plans, such as bases in DjemaSam Ouandja, and Obo in the Central African Republic that were revealed, in recent years, by The Washington PostAlso missing is a newer drone base in Garoua, Cameroon, not to mention that Tunisian air base where the United States has been flying drones, according to AFRICOM’s Waldhauser, for quite some time.”

Some bases may have been shuttered, while others may not yet have been put in service when the documents were produced. Ultimately, the reasons that these and many other previously identified bases are not included in the redacted secret files are unclear due to AFRICOM’s refusal to offer comment, clarification, or additional information on the locations of its bases.


“Just as the U.S. pursues strategic interests in Africa, international competitors, including China and Russia, are doing the same,” laments AFRICOM in its 2017 posture statement. “We continue to see international competitors engage with African partners in a manner contrary to the international norms of transparency.”

Since it was established as an independent command in 2008, however, AFRICOM itself has been anything but transparent about its activities on the continent. The command’s physical footprint may, in fact, have been its most jealously guarded secret. Today, thanks to AFRICOM’s own internal documents, that secret is out and with AFRICOM’s admission that it currently maintains “15 enduring locations,” the long-peddled fiction of a combatant command with just one base in its area of operations has been laid to rest.

“Because of the size of Africa, because of the time and space and the distances, when it comes to special crisis-response-type activities, we need access in various places on the continent,” said AFRICOM chief Waldhauser during his March press conference. These “various places” have also been integral to escalating American shadow wars, including a full-scale air campaign against the Islamic State in Libya, dubbed Operation Odyssey Lightning, which ended late last year, and ongoing intelligence-gathering missions and a continued US troop presence in that country; drone assassinations and increased troop deployments in Somalia to counter al-Shabaab; and increasing engagement in a proxy war against Boko Haram militants in the Lake Chad region of Central Africa. For these and many more barely noticed US military missions, America’s sprawling, ever-expanding network of bases provides the crucial infrastructure for cross-continental combat by US and allied forces, a low-profile support system for war-making in Africa and beyond.

Without its wide-ranging constellation of bases, it would be nearly impossible for the United States to carry out ceaseless low-profile military activities across the continent. As a result, AFRICOM continues to prefer shadows to sunlight. While the command provided figures on the total number of US military bases, outposts, and staging areas in Africa, its spokespeople failed to respond to repeated requests to provide locations for any of the 46 current sites. While the whereabouts of the new outposts may still be secret, there’s little doubt as to the trajectory of America’s African footprint, which has increased by 10 locations—a 28 percent jump—in just over two years.

America’s “enduring” African bases “give the United States options in the event of crisis and enable partner capacity building,” according to AFRICOM’s Chuck Prichard. They have also played a vital role in conflicts from Yemen to Iraq, Nigeria to Somalia. With the Trump administration escalating its wars in Africa and the Middle East, and the potential for more crises—from catastrophic famines to spreading wars—on the horizon, there’s every reason to believe the US military’s footprint on the continent will continue to evolve, expand, and enlarge in the years ahead, outpost by outpost and base by base.


U.S. expands secret wars in Africa – USA fights in 70-90 countries!

The secret expansion of U.S. military bases and special operations in Africahas initiated a new and lightweight style of warfare and welcomes the next phase of American military imperialism. Unlike the highly publicized U.S. military “pivot to Asia,” the proliferation of drones, special ops, mercenary spies, classified bases, proxy fighters and cyber warfare constitute what the journalist Nick Turse calls a “new light-footprint Obama doctrine” that “seems to be making war an ever more attractive and seemingly easy option.”


On any day, elite U.S. forces conduct covert missions in an estimated 70 to 90 countries. According to Turse, special forces have been sent to an unprecedented 147 countries —  75 percent of the world’s nations last year alone. This is a 145 percent increase from the rate of operations conducted under the Bush administration.

Wars conventionally fought by large infantry forces and full-scale invasions of foreign countries have made way for a new style of fighting — one that has become increasingly dependent on special forces, drones and private defense contractors. Because of the confidential nature of special ops, the Pentagon can essentially keep foreign military involvement secret from the American public. The U.S. has always had troops in Africa since the Cold War but the rate of its expansion dangerously indicates a lack of public accountability.


The shadow wars in Africa are now fought by members of the U.S. Special Operations Command and JSOC — a clandestine organization that carries out kill/capture missions. JSOC has been called “an almost industrial-scale counterterrorism killing machine” by counterinsurgency advisor John Nagl and many have described it as the president’s “private assassination squad.” The group reports directly to the White House. It is the military’s secret military.

The notion the U.S. would someday pull its troops out of the Middle East is a rather naive claim considering the fact we have nothing short of a permanent war economy. From main operating bases that house thousands of soldiers to single airstrips used by the C.I.A. to taxi their blacked-out turboprops, the U.S. continues to maintain over 800 to 1,000 bases around the world — making us the most expansive military empire in history. Nobody really knows the exact figure — not even the military experts. The late scholar Chalmers Johnson wrote in his book, “The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic” on how the Pentagon and an uncontrollable military-industrial complex have turned the U.S. into “a new kind of military empire — a consumerist Sparta.” Chalmers declares, “Another crucial characteristic that distinguished the American empire from empires of the past is that bases are not needed to fight wars but are instead pure manifestations of militarism and imperialism.”


Military expansion does not make us safe since it cultivates global instability. The uncontrollable growth into Africa has resulted in the funding and training of proxy armies with atrocious human-rights records and has attracted mercenaries such as Erik Prince — founder of the infamous Blackwater private army hired by the D.O.D to provide security to high-level diplomats during the Iraq war.

With military presence in 53 of 54 of Africa’s nations, the American empire has emerged to pick up where the former European colonial powers have left off.


Science: The Weird Reason Roman Emperors Were Assassinated

Ancient Rome was a dangerous place to be an emperor. During its more than 500-year run, about 20 percent of Rome’s 82 emperors were assassinated while in power. So, what led to their downfalls?

According to a new study, we can blame it on the rain.

Here’s the reasoning: When rainfall was low, troops in the Roman military — who depended on the rain to water crops grown by local farmers — would have starved. “In turn, that would have pushed them over the edge to potentially mutiny,” said study lead researcher Cornelius Christian, an assistant professor of economics at Brock University in Ontario, Canada. [In Photos: Ancient Home and Barracks of Roman Military Officer]

Christian, who considers himself an economic historian, made the discovery by using ancient climate data from a 2011 study in the journal Science. In that study, researchers analyzed thousands of fossilized tree rings from France and Germany and calculated how much it had rained there (in millimeters) every spring for the past 2,500 years. This area once comprised the Roman frontier, where military troops were stationed.

Then, Christian pulled data on military mutinies and emperor assassinations in ancient Rome. From there, “it was really just a question of piecing together these different pieces of information,” Christian said. He plugged the numbers into a formula and found that “lower rainfall means that there’s more probability of assassinations that are going to take place, because lower rainfall means there’s less food.”

Make it rain

Take, for instance, Emperor Vitellius. He was assassinated in A.D. 69, a year of low rainfall on the Roman frontier, where the troops were stationed. “Vitellius was an acclaimed emperor by his troops,” Christian said.  “Unfortunately, low rainfall hit that year, and he was completely flabbergasted. His troops revolted, and eventually he was assassinated in Rome.”

But, as is often the case, many factors can lead to an assassination. For example, Emperor Commodus was assassinated in A.D. 192 because, in part, the military got fed up when he began acting above the law, including making gladiators purposely lose to him in the Colosseum.

There wasn’t a drought leading up to Commodus’ assassination, “but usually there is a drought preceding the assassination of the emperor,” Christian said. “We’re not trying to claim that rainfall is the only explanation for all these things. It’s just one of many potential forcing variables that can cause this to happen.”

The study is part of a burgeoning field that examines how climate affected ancient societies, said Joseph Manning, a professor of classics and history at Yale University who wasn’t involved with the new research. Last fall, Manning and his colleagues published a study in the journal Nature on how volcanic activity may have led to the drier conditions that doomed the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt, Live Science previously reported.

However, while the new study lays a “good groundwork” for the rainfall-assassination hypothesis, the researchers have a long way to go to support this idea, Manning said. For starters, it’s relatively simple to find a correlation between two things using statistics, he said. “They do some pretty good statistical work, but how do you know you’ve got the right mechanism?” [Photos: Gladiators of the Roman Empire]

In other words, correlation does not equal causation, Manning said. But, given the promise of this preliminary research, it’s worth the effort to dig into this hypothesis to determine whether climate data actually jibes with assassination dates, from the empire’s start in 27 B.C. to its end in A.D. 476, Manning said.

The hypothesis “sounds plausible,” said Jonathan Conant, an associate professor of history at Brown University who wasn’t involved with the study. But while rain may have played a role, so did other factors, Conant said. For instance, most of Rome’s assassinations happened in the third century A.D. At this time, the Roman Empire had massive inflation, disease outbreaks and external wars, all of which took a toll on the empire’s stability, Conant said.

“For me, [the rainfall-assassination hypothesis] adds another layer of complexity and nuance to our understanding of the political history of the Roman Empire, especially in the third century,” Conant told Live Science.

The study is published in the October issue of the journal Economics Letters.



Science: Will NASA’s Parker Solar Probe Really ‘Touch the Sun’?

Next month, NASA will give the sun its close-up. The Parker Solar Probe will begin a seven-year mission to examine the sun’s energy, in an effort to better protect people and spacecraft from the star’s potentially devastating effects. A particularly lofty milestone for the probe? “Touching the sun,” NASA says.

Considering the sun is a ball of sizzling gas — with no solid surface — what, exactly, does that mean?

After it launches, no earlier than Aug. 4, Parker will periodically fly through the outermost layer of the sun’s atmosphere, called the corona, where temperatures can soar as high as 3.5 million degrees Fahrenheit (2 million degrees Celsius).

Because of the extreme temperatures, sun-observing spacecraft have trouble getting close enough to get a complete picture of the corona’s activity. So, the Parker Solar Probe, equipped with special shielding, will zoom in to just 4 million miles (6.4 million kilometers) from the sun’s photosphere to get close-up views. That’s more than 14 times closer than Mercury is to the sun — a distance that averages of 58 million miles (93 million km). And it will be the closest that any human-made object has been to the sun — essentially, Parker will “touch the sun.”

“Parker is going to be the first time where we’re going to get close enough to the sun to see where the action is happening, where the corona is heated and where the solar wind is being accelerated,” Eric Christian, a research scientist on the Parker mission at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, told Live Science.

Parker’s main science goals are to understand how the solar wind is accelerated and why the corona is superhot. These are important science and exploration questions, Christian said. The sun periodically sends out solar flares and, along with them, coronal mass ejections that can carry dangerous charged particles across the solar system.

Parker’s heat shield is a lightweight, 4.5-inch thick carbon foam core that is 97 percent air, according to NASA. Surrounding it is two panels of superheated carbon-carbon composite. The side closest to the sun was spray-coated to reflect the star’s energy, allowing the spacecraft to stay as cool as possible.

The spacecraft will be so close to the sun that it won’t be able to take pictures while looking straight at it, because otherwise it will be damaged. So NASA will depend on its fleet of other sun spacecraft to show how the sun looks while Parker collects information about the star’s activity. The Solar Dynamics Observatory and the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory already do regular observations of the star from afar to monitor its sunspots, flares and other indications of solar activity, so they’ll continue doing that job while Parker gets its close-up view.

Parker’s first glimpse of the sun from up close will happen just four months after launch. First, it will do a quick flyby of Venus. However, Christian said science observations at the planet are unlikely because Parker’s instruments are designed to pick up charged particles, and Venus doesn’t have much of a magnetic field. Then, Parker will dip as close as 17 million miles (27 million km) from the sun in this particular flyby, autonomously collecting observations and then slowly transmitting them back to Earth the following year, Christian said.[

Why the delay? The sun is a powerful source of radio waves, and it can interfere with Parker’s communications. While Parker is close to the sun and orbiting near the sun (relative to Earth’s view), NASA will avoid getting in touch with the probe, so that the space agency’s commands don’t confuse the spacecraft. NASA is already used to such situations, such as when Mars gets close to the sun (from Earth’s perspective) and the agency suspends conversations with rovers on the surface.

Christian said he can’t wait to see what Parker will show us about the sun. Compared with terrestrial weather forecasting, he said, our solar weather predictions “are way behind … We can’t forecast when the sun will give off these storms,” he said. But with more data, scientists may someday understand solar weather as well as they do tornado formation on Earth today, he said.


Science: You Might Be Slightly Conscious Under Anesthesia!

It’s the stuff of nightmares: regaining consciousness while under general anesthesia.

But according to a group of doctors in Finland, it may be that we never fully lose consciousness under anesthesia. Two new studies, both published in the July issue of the British Journal of Anaesthesia, suggest that the brain is still partly conscious under the influence of anesthetics, even though the person who has taken the drug isn’t reacting or seemingly aware.

“The brain is working more than we have thought during general anesthesia,” said Dr. Harry Scheinin, an anesthesiologist at the Terveystalo Pulssi Hospital and adjunct professor at the University of Turku, both in Finland. But this “is not necessarily a problem.” [Social Surgery: A Gallery of Live-Tweeted Operations]

In both studies, researchers used data collected from 47 adults who were placed under anesthesia. The adults received one of two common anesthetics used in surgery: dexmedetomidine and propofol. The researchers gave the participants low doses of the drugs — just enough for them to lose responsiveness.

While still under the influence of the anesthetics, in one of the studies, the researchers shook the participants and spoke loudly to wake them up, and then asked them what their experience had been like. All the while, the researchers recorded the participants’ brain activity with a device called an electroencephalogram (EEG).

Most of the participants reported experiencing dreams mixed in with reality. These were pretty typical dreams, said Scheinin, who co-led the research effort. “There are people who thought [a] couple of years ago, that if you are dreaming during general anesthesia or surgery, … the anesthesia [dose] may be too low, but I don’t agree. I think dreaming can be relatively common and normal in surgical anesthesia.”

It’s possible that “general anesthesia can be [closer] to normal dreaming or sleeping than we have previously thought,” Scheinin added. (It is thought that a dreaming person, for example, is partly conscious, he said.)

In a second experiment that was also published in the first study, the researchers played unpleasant sounds while the participants were under anesthesia. Once the participants were awake, the researchers had them listen to more unpleasant sounds — some of which had been played to them while under anesthesia. The people reacted faster to the sounds that had been played while they were under anesthesia than the ones they hadn’t heard before. Again, this suggests the brain is somehow processing these sounds, even while under anesthesia, Scheinin said.

The second study focused on the results of yet another experiment done when the participants were under anesthesia. In this experiment, the participants were played a recording of regular sentences that ended with a really bizarre word — one that clearly didn’t belong in the sentence, such as “The bear walks on the moon” instead of “The bear walks in the forest.”

When people are awake, hearing that unexpected word usually causes a greater response in brain activity than an expected word would, Scheinin told Live Science. The researchers found that when the people were under anesthesia, however, their brain activity looked the same, regardless of which type of sentence was played — in other words, their brains couldn’t tell the difference between normal and weird sentences. But curiously, in the people given dexmedetomidine, the researchers observed a spike in brain activity that coincided with the end of the sentences.

Scheinin said that he thinks that both types of words — normal and bizarre — might have triggered this spike because the brain might lose context or expectations while under anesthesia. For example, it may be that the people under anesthesia can’t remember the beginning of the sentence by the time they hear the end, or they can’t integrate the words into sentence form, he said. But the spike in activity at the end of the sentences suggests that they are still hearing and processing the sentences.

Once the people were awake, however, none of them remembered what they heard.

These studies “confirm that consciousness is rarely ever lost,” said Allan Leslie Combs, the director of the California Institute of Integral Studies Center for Consciousness Studies, who was not involved with the new research. But what is commonly lost is memory, Combs said, which is what the second study suggested. In other words, even though a person may not fully lose consciousness while under certain anesthetics, that person does lose the memories that occur at this time.

“It’s worth pointing out that these studies all use very light anesthesia,” Combs told Live Science — much lighter than what would be used when a person is having surgery. So, it’s possible that the experience could be different for the levels of anesthesia used in surgery, he added.

Scheinin acknowledged that the doses of anesthesia used in the studies were light but thinks the results could also hold true for normal levels of anesthetics. However, there are many other drugs that are thrown into the mix during normal surgery, including opioids and muscle relaxants, which could also alter the results, Scheinin said.

The new findings could help develop technologies or drugs to eliminate what doctors call “unintended awareness,” Scheinin said, referring to terrifying stories of unlucky individuals who somehow end up awareduring surgery but are unable to notify the doctors. The phenomenon is rare — it occurs in only about 1 in 1,000 people — but that doesn’t mean researchers shouldn’t try to solve it, he added.


35,000 Years ago: All Europeans are related to people who lived in Belgium!

[Here’s a fascinating discovery. It shows trends that took place over tens of thousands of years! I have also come across mention that people interbred a bit with Neanderthals tens of thousands of years ago! Jan]

The ‘founding fathers’ of Europe: DNA reveals all Europeans are related to a group that lived around Belgium 35,000 years ago

  • Experts analysed data from humans who lived 45,000 to 7,000 years ago
  • Genetic data shows all Europeans come from a single founding population
  • This population occupied northwest Europe 35,000 years ago before being  displaced when another group of early humans arrived 33,000 years ago
  • The original group then re-expanded across the continent 19,000 years ago

Modern humans arrived in Europe 45,000 years ago but little is known about how they spread across the continent before the introduction of farming.

Now, researchers carrying out the most detailed genetic analysis of Upper Paleolithic Europeans to date have discovered a major new lineage of early modern humans.

This group, which lived in the northwest 35,000 years ago, directly contributed to the ancestry of present-day Europeans and is believed to have been formed of the ‘founding fathers’ of Europe.

Researchers carrying out the most detailed genetic analysis of Upper Paleolithic Europeans to date have discovered a major new lineage of early modern humans. This group, which lived in the northwest around 35,000 years ago, directly contributed to the ancestry of present-day Europeans (artist's impression pictured) 

Archaeological studies have previously found modern humans swept into Europe 45,000 years ago.

This ultimately led to the demise of the Neanderthals, despite the fact some modern humans interbred with these cousins.

During the Ice Age that ended 12,000 years ago, with its peak between 25,000 and 19,000 years ago when the melt started, glaciers covered Scandinavia and northern Europe all the way to northern France.

As the ice sheets retreated at the end of the last Ice Age, the region was repopulated.

David Reich and his colleagues from Harvard University analysed genome-wide data from 51 modern humans who lived between 45,000 and 7,000 years ago to study this repopulation.


The genetic data shows that, beginning 37,000 years ago, all Europeans come from a single population that persisted through the Ice Age.

The founding population has deep branches in different parts of Europe, one of which is represented by a specimen from Belgium.

In fact, present-day Europeans can trace their ancestry back to this group of humans who lived in northwest Europe 35,000 years ago.

However, this founding population, which was part of the Aurignacian culture, became displaced when another group of early humans arrived on the scene in many parts of Europe 33,000 years ago.

This group was made up of members of a different culture known as the Gravettian.

Around 19,000 years ago, a population related to the Aurignacian culture re-expanded across Europe.

It is thought these people went on to repopulate Europe after ice sheets retreated.

Based on the earliest sample in which this ancestry is observed, it is plausible this population expanded from the southwest – present-day Spain – after the Ice Age peaked.

Remains found from this period include three 31,000-year-old skulls from Dolni V?stonice in the Czech Republic, the lower jaw of the 19,000-year-old ‘Red Lady of El Mirón Cave’ and the skull of a 14,000-year-old individual discovered at the Villabruna in northeastern Italy, among others.

The genetic data shows that, beginning 37,000 years ago, all Europeans come from a single founding population that persisted through the Ice Age.

The founding population has deep branches in different parts of Europe, one of which is represented by a specimen from Belgium.

In fact, present-day Europeans can trace their ancestry back to this group of humans who lived in northwest Europe 35,000 years ago.

However, this founding population, which was part of the Aurignacian culture, became displaced when another group of early humans, members of a different culture known as the Gravettian, arrived on the scene in many parts of Europe 33,000 years ago.

Then, around 19,000 years ago, a population related to the Aurignacian culture re-expanded across Europe.

It is thought these people went on to repopulate Europe after the vast ice sheets retreated.

Based on the earliest sample in which this ancestry is observed, it is plausible this population expanded from the southwest – present-day Spain – after the Ice Age peaked.

The second event the researchers detected happened 14,000 years ago when populations from the southeast, around Turkey and Greece, spread into Europe, displacing the first group of humans.

Professor Reich added: ‘We see a new population turnover in Europe, and this time it seems to be from the east, not the west.

Researchers from Harvard University analysed genome-wide data from 51 modern humans who lived between 45,000 and 7,000 years ago. The location and age of these humans is shown. Each bar corresponds to an individual, the colour represents the genetically defined cluster, and the height is proportional to age
Researchers from Harvard University analysed genome-wide data from 51 modern humans who lived between 45,000 and 7,000 years ago. The location and age of these humans is shown. Each bar corresponds to an individual, the colour represents the genetically defined cluster, and the height is proportional to age

The team studied three 31,000-year-old skulls from Dolni V?stonice in the Czech Republic (pictured). For 5,000 years after this group lived, all samples, from Belgium, the Czech Republic, Austria and Italy, were found to be closely related, reflecting a population expansion associated with the Gravettian archaeological culture

An early branch of the European founder population was displaced across much of Europe for around fifteen thousand years before becoming widespread again. The lower jaw of the 19,000-year-old 'Red Lady of El Mirón Cave' is pictured. This is the first individual in the study to show the resurgence of ancestry


The genetic analysis shows the Aurignacian culture was displaced by the Gravettian culture, but later re-emerged.

Radiocarbon dating shows the Aurignacian culture from Europe and southwest Asia dominated from 47,000 to 41,000 years ago, although emerged in smaller groups earlier than this.

The group is categorised by its tools made of bone or antler points with grooves cut in the bottom.

The Aurignacian culture is categorised by its tools made of bone or antler points with grooves cut in the bottom as well as bladelets (pictured)

The Aurignacian culture is categorised by its tools made of bone or antler points with grooves cut in the bottom as well as bladelets (pictured)

Elsewhere, they made flint tools include blades and bladelets.

The people of this culture are also linked with early cave art, including animal engravings and imagery in the Chauvet cave in southern France.

By comparison, the Gravettians were a Stone Age culture known for making small pointed blades who lived across much of Europe.

This group of hunter gatherers lived in central and Eastern Europe between 30,000 and 20,000 years ago.

Remains of this prehistoric culture have been found in caves in southern France and more open sites on the plains of Central Europe and Russia.

Isotopic studies of human remains from the Czech Republic have also revealed that mammoths formed a large part of the Gravettian diet.

‘We see very different genetics spreading across Europe that displaces the people from the southwest who were there before.

‘These people persisted for many thousands of years until the arrival of farming.’

The study, published in Nature, also detected some mixture with Neanderthals, around 45,000 years ago, as modern humans spread across Europe.

The prehistoric human populations contained three to six per cent of Neanderthal DNA, but today most humans only have about two per cent.

‘Neanderthal DNA is slightly toxic to modern humans’ and this study provides evidence that natural selection is removing Neanderthal ancestry,’ Professor Reich added.

The genetic analysis shows the Aurignacian culture was displaced by the Gravettian culture, but later re-emerged. Radiocarbon dating shows the Aurignacian culture from Europe and southwest Asia dominated from 47,000 to 41,000 years ago (locations pictured), although emerged in smaller groups earlier than this

During the first major warming period at the end of the Ice Age, a new population swept in from the southeast, drawing the gene pools of Europeans and Near Easterners closer together. The skull of a 14,000-year-old individual discovered at the Villabruna in northeastern Italy is pictured

Ancient specimens are frequently contaminated with microbial DNA, as well as DNA from archaeologists or lab technicians who have handled the specimens.

The arm bone of a 35,000-year-old individual from Belgium who was part of a previously undiscovered major lineage 

To solve this problem scientists used a technique called in-solution hybrid capture enrichment.

They used about 1.2 million 52-base-pair DNA sequences corresponding to positions in the human genome that they were interested in as bait to target specific segments of DNA.

After they washed the ancient DNA over the 1.2 million probe sequences, the researchers sequenced the ancient DNA that was captured by the probes.

Prior to the Harvard Medical School study there were only four samples of prehistoric European modern humans 45,000 to 7,000 years old for which genomic data were available.

This made it difficult to understand how human populations migrated or evolved during this period.

Using a new technique, more samples could be assessed.

Professor Reich continued: ‘Trying to represent this vast period of European history with just four samples is like trying to summarise a movie with four still images.

‘With 51 samples, everything changes; we can follow the narrative arc; we get a vivid sense of the dynamic changes over time.

‘And what we see is a population history that is no less complicated than that in the last 7,000 years, with multiple episodes of population replacement and immigration on a vast and dramatic scale, at a time when the climate was changing dramatically.’

The study also detected some mixture with Neanderthals, around 45,000 years ago, as modern humans spread across Europe. The prehistoric human populations contained three to six per cent of Neanderthal DNA, but today most humans only have about two per cent (plotted in this graph)


New colossal dinosaur size of DOUBLE DECKER bus discovered – 30 million years older than expected!

[It is astounding how the boundaries of science are being pushed back and we are seeing older dinosaurs which show how evolution really worked. Jan]

Scientists found the remains of the dinosaur, named Ingentia Prima, meaning ‘great cousin’, in Argentina.

The dramatic discovery winds back the clock on the emergence of giant dinosaurs by a staggering 30 million years – shedding fresh light on their evolution.

The colossal Ingenta Prima was about 33 feet long, 14 feet tall and weighed up to 10 tons.

It roamed South America around 210 million years ago during the the Late Triassic.

The dinosaur was among the first huge sauropods that turned into into the largest animals that walked the planet.

Palaeontologist Dr Cecilia Apaldetti said: “It was enormous. It was at least twice as large as the other herbivores of the time.”

The creature changes our understanding of how this group of species became such an immense size.

Its growth was fuelled by bird like lungs that would have made it remarkably light on its feet – for its size.

Ingentia Prima dinosaurSWNSCOLOSSAL: The Ingenta Prima was about 33 feet long, 14 feet tall and weighed up to 10 tons

Dr Apaldetti said: “Until now it was believed the first giants to inhabit the Earth originated during the Jurassic – about 180 million years ago.”But with this discovery we can see the first steps toward gigantism occurred 30 million years before the giants dominated practically the entire planet.”

This period was a pivotal stage in the history of dinosaurs, but the fossil record is so incomplete it obscures details of this crucial evolutionary change.

Dinosaurs first appeared around 230 million years ago, and it was believed to have taken them about 50 million years to become massive.

But the new discovery shows it happened in less than half that time.

The plant eater, described in Nature Ecology & Evolution, is an ancestor of its famously freakish Titanosaur cousins Brachiosaurus and Diplodocus, renowned for their enormous necks and tails.

Among the most iconic of dinosaurs they stretched to 130 feet and weighed up to 80 tons.

But the earliest examples of this group were small, two-legged creatures. To turn into towering behemoths, it was believed the development of straight legs for support and continuous, rapid growth were essential.

“It was enormous. It was at least twice as large as the other herbivores of the time”

Dr Cecilia Apaldetti

But Ingentia Prima, which was found alongside the remains of three individuals belonging to the already known species Lessemsaurus Sauropoides, changes this.

They all belonged to a family of dinosaurs called ‘lessemsaurids’ and lived in what is now Argentina, but was then the southeast corner of the supercontinent Pangaea.

Dr Apaldetti said the climate would have been warm, with periodic monsoons producing an African savannah-style landscape, with plenty of shrubs on which Ingentia Prima would feed.

Its size would also have put it at less risk of being eaten by flesh eating dinosaurs that were already around.

Dr Apaldetti said: “Gigantism is an evolutionary survival strategy, especially for herbivorous animals.”

The remarkably preserved specimens were discovered in a dinosaur ‘nest’ unearthed at a World Heritage site known for its fossils in Argentina’s north western San Juan province.

They included shoulder blades, cervical vertebrae and bones from the forelimbs, feet and skull of the four dinosaurs.

Dr Apaldetti, of the National University of San Juan, said they weighed in at an estimated seven to 10 tonnes. Like their notorious descendants, they also had elongated necks and tails.

Double decker busGETTYGIANT: A dinosaur the size of a double decker bus has been discovered

And they had the same bird like air sacs – respiratory structures which are thought to have been necessary to keep large animals cool.

Explained Dr Apaldetti: “This respiratory system is related to the development of air sacs inside their bodies – like modern birds.

“It allowed them to have large reserves of oxygenated air, and also helped them to keep cool despite being so big.

“In addition, this kind of breathing implied the presence of cavities, or deep holes, in their bones – known as a pneumatic skeleton – that lightened the weight and would have favoured a large body size.”

But unlike their more recent counterparts they stood on bent legs and had bones that grew thick through accelerated bursts – showing there is more than one way to ‘make’ a giant dinosaur.

The last iconic sauropods had the benefit of a long history of evolutionary innovation in this regard, said Dr Apaldetti.

Dr Apaldetti said: “Sauropods were the first successful group of herbivorous dinosaurs, dominating most terrestrial ecosystems for more than 140 million years, from the Late Triassic to Late Cretaceous.”

Their expansion in the Late Triassic is evident from the appearance of many small, agile two legged types recorded throughout the world.

Dr Apaldetti added: “Sauropods evolved from these smaller forms and became the largest land animals that ever lived on Earth.”


Science: The Good News on Allergies: They Might Protect Against Cancer

Allergies are a pain, but a new study suggests that they may actually be helpful. The immune systems of people with contact allergies may be primed to protect against some forms of cancer, including breast and non-melanoma skin cancer, according to a new study.

Scientists focused on nearly 17,000 Danish adults who were tested for contact allergies, when an allergic reaction occurs due to direct contact with chemicals such as acetone and common metals, including nickel and cobalt. People with contact allergies usually develop a rash on the area that touched the allergen within 24 hours.

About one-third of the study participants tested positive for at least one contact allergy, with women more likely to test positive (41 percent) than men (26 percent). The participants were tested between 1984 and 2008.

Scientists estimate about 20 percent of the general Danish population has contact allergies; In the United States, 30 million to 45 million people have contact allergies —or more than 10 percent of the U.S. population, according to an April 2011 Harvard study.

Researchers at the National Allergy Research Centre at Copenhagen University Hospital Gentofte in Hellerup, Denmark, examined cancer cases among the study participants over the long term. The findings showed that men and women with contact allergies had significantly lower rates of breast cancer and non-melanoma skin cancer.

The study also showed that women with contact allergies had lower rates of brain cancer compared with women without contact allergies, though that was not statistically significant. However, researchers found that both men and women with contact allergies had higher rates of bladder cancer, which “could be due to accumulations of chemical metabolites in the bladder,” according to the study.

The lower rates of brain, breast and non-melanoma skin cancer among those with contact allergies may be the result of how their immune systems function. According to researchers, the findings support the immunosurveillance hypothesis — the theory that individuals with so-called hyperimmunity have the side effect of allergies. This hyperimmunity is what may protect against some cancers.

The researchers caution that the results show a correlation between contact allergies and lowered rates of some cancers, but do not mean that one caused the other.

The study was published on July 12 in the journal BMJ Open.


Why Cancer Rates Are Higher in Flight Attendants

Flight attendants may have a higher risk of a number of cancers, a new study finds.

Researchers found that women and men on U.S. cabin crews have higher rates of many types of cancer, compared with the general population. This includes cancers of the breast, cervix, skin, thyroid and uterus, as well as gastrointestinal system cancers, which include colon, stomach, esophageal, liver and pancreatic cancers.

One possible explanation for these increased rates is that flight attendants are exposed to a lot of known and potential carcinogens, or cancer-causing agents, within their work environment, said lead study author Irina Mordukhovich, a research associate at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. [10 Do’s and Don’ts to Reduce Your Risk of Cancer]

One of those carcinogens is cosmic ionizing radiation, which is elevated at higher altitudes, Mordukhovich told Live Science. This type of radiation is particularly damaging to DNA and is a known cause of breast cancer and nonmelanoma skin cancer, she said.

Air cabin crews receive the highest yearly dose of ionizing radiation on the job of all U.S. workers, she added.

In the new study, the researchers looked at data from more than 5,300 flight attendants from different airlines who completed an online survey as part of the Harvard Flight Attendant Health Study. The analysis looked at the cancer rates in these flight attendants compared to a group of about 2,700 people who had a similar income and educational status but were not flight attendants.

The researchers found that in female flight attendants, the rates of breast cancer were about 50 percent higher than in women from the general population. In addition, melanoma rates were more than two times higher and nonmelanoma skin cancer rates were about four times higher in female flight attendants compared with women from the general population. (Nonmelanoma skin cancers include basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas.)

These elevated cancer rates were observed despite indications of good-health behaviors, such as low levels of smoking and obesity, in the flight-attendant group as a whole, the study authors said.

Cancer rates in male flight attendants were nearly 50 percent higher for melanoma and about 10 percent higher for nonmelanoma skin cancers compared with men from the general population group, according to the findings.

The potential cancer risks for flight attendants are not limited to cosmic ionizing radiation. Cabin crew members are also regularly exposed to more UV radiation than the general population, which can make these workers more vulnerable to skin cancers, Mordukhovich said.

In addition, some studies have found that circadian rhythm disruptions, such as jet lag, might be linked with an increased risk of cancer, she said. These disruptions could lead to changes in immune function and cell metabolism, which can reduce the suppression of tumors.

Another possible threat to the health of cabin crew members is chemical exposure, according to the study. The women and men who worked as flight attendants prior to 1988, when smoking was first banned on some U.S. flights, were routinely exposed to secondhand smoke while on board the aircraft.

Other chemical contaminants found in the cabin may include engine leakages, pesticides and flame retardants, which contain compounds that may act as hormone disruptors and increase the risk of some cancers, Mordukhovich said.

Further complicating matters is that flight attendants in the U.S. don’t have the same occupational protections as their counterparts in the European Union. There, exposure levels to radiation as well as work schedules are routinely monitored and adjusted to make sure flight attendants don’t exceed certain guidelines for carcinogen exposure, Mordukhovich said. [5 Real Hazards of Air Travel]

There has been only limited research on the health of flight attendants, but they may not be the only air travelers to experience higher rates of cancer. The rates may also be higher for pilots and people who fly often as passengers, Mordukhovich said. Studies of pilots have generally shown higher rates of skin and prostate cancers, she noted, adding that pilots also have been found to have circadian rhythm disruption, but these workers have somewhat more built-in protections around their scheduling and rest times than flight attendants do.

Although the cancer risks for frequent flyers have not yet been studied, there is no reason to suspect these people would not have similar risks as those faced by cabin crews, Mordukhovich said.

 Some limitations of the study are that researchers were not able to take into consideration individual UV exposures, such as sunbathing habits or leisure-time activities, which could influence skin cancer risk. In addition, cancer rates were self-reported by study participants, and these diagnoses were not confirmed by a check of their medical records by the researchers, according to the study.

The study was published online today (June 25) in the journal Environmental Health.