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An aerial image of Lake Mead in Nevada in January 2020. Photo: Daniel Slim/AFP via Getty Images

A large portion of the American Southwest is in the grip of a climate change-induced megadrought, a new study finds.

The big picture: This is the first megadrought of the climate change era, and it comes at a time when expanding cities and farms in the region are demanding more and more water.

A megadrought is a severe drought that lasts not for months or even years but for decades, often over a vast amount of land.

  • Geological records suggest the American Southwest has been hit by such megadroughts multiple times over the last few thousand years. But past megadroughts had been caused by natural weather fluctuations.

Driving the news: The new research, published in Science, indicates the current megadrought is at least partially due to human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases. The resulting warmer temperatures and earlier snowmelt have intensified the drought, which now ranks as the second-worst over the past 1,200 years.

  • According to the researchers, 30-50% of the current megadrought can be attributed to climate change.
  • A megadrought is difficult enough to deal with on its own, but for decades population in the desert Southwest has been growing at least twice as fast as the U.S. as a whole. That means more people competing for less water.

What they're saying: "The real take-home is that the Southwest is being baked by the burning of fossil fuels and other human activities, and the future implications are dire if we don’t stop climate change," University of Michigan climate researcher Jonathan Overpeck told the Washington Post.

Go deeper: The countries most at risk of a water crisis

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - World

In photos: Pope Francis spreads message of peace on first trip to Iraq

Pope Francis waving as he arrives near the ruins of the Syriac Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception (al-Tahira-l-Kubra), in the old city of Iraq's northern Mosul on March 7. Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP via Getty Images

Pope Francis was on Sunday visiting areas of northern Iraq once held by Islamic State militants.

Why it matters: This is the first-ever papal trip to Iraq. The purpose of Francis' four-day visit is largely intended to reassure the country's Christian minority, who were violently persecuted by ISIS, which controlled the region from 2014-2017.

Cuomo faces fresh misconduct allegations from former aides

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo during a February press conference in New York City. Photo: Seth Wenig/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

The office of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) was on Saturday facing fresh accusations of misconduct against his staff, including further allegations of inappropriate behavior against two more women. His office denies the claims.

Driving the news: The Washington Post reported Cuomo allegedly embraced an aide when he led the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and that two male staffers who worked for him in the governor's office accused him of routinely berating them "with explicit language."

In photos: Protesters rally for George Floyd ahead of Derek Chauvin's trial

Chaz Neal, a Redwing community activist, outside the Minnesota Governor's residence during a protest in support of George Floyd in St.Paul, Minnesota, on March 6. Photo: Kerem Yucel/AFP via Getty Images

Dozens of protesters were rallying outside the Minnesota governor's mansion in St Paul Saturday, urging justice for George Floyd ahead of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin's trial over the 46-year-old's death.

The big picture: Chauvin faces charges for second-degree murder and manslaughter over Floyd's death last May, which ignited massive nationwide and global protests against racism and for police reform. His trial is due to start this Monday, with jury selection procedures.