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A fire in Greenland on July 10. Zombie fires smolder underground for months, notably in dense peatlands, and then flare-up when it grows warmer and drier. NASA

By Mark Kaufman

Some fires won't die.

They survive underground during the winter and then reemerge the following spring, as documented in places like Alaska. They're called "overwintering," "holdover," or "zombie" fires, and they may have now awoken in the Arctic Circle — a fast-warming region that experienced unprecedented fires in 2019. The European Union's Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service is now watching these fires, via satellite.

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Green living spruce and gray dead spruce in the Harz mountain region on May 7, 2020 near Clausthal-Zellerfeld, Germany. Jens Schlueter / Getty Images

More than a third of the world's old growth forests died between 1900 and 2015, a new study has found.

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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A Pacific fisher. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

Today is Endangered Species Day but the Trump administration isn't giving one imperiled critter much reason to celebrate.

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A California neighborhood was treated to an unusual lockdown protest Tuesday evening when around 200 goats broke through a fence and ran shoulder to shoulder through the streets.

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Cut timber being loaded for transportation to a manufacturing plant in Gympie, Queensland, Australia on July 17, 2013. Auscape / Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Australia's unprecedented wildfires that raged for months and destroyed millions of acres were likely made worse by industrial logging of native forests, according to a new commentary from five scientists published in Nature Ecology & Evolution.

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An oil pipeline stretches across the landscape outside Prudhoe Bay in North Slope Borough, Alaska on May 25, 2019. This photo was featured prominently in The Washington Post's Pulitzer prize-winning series 2°C: Beyond the Limit. Bonnie Jo Mount / The Washington Post via Getty Images

Environment and climate stories made strong showings in this year's Pulitzer Prize winners and finalists, which were announced Monday.

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An aerial view of a grass fire in the fields in Bolotnoye District, Novosibirsk Region, south Siberia on April 23, 2020. Kirill Kukhmar / TASS via Getty Images

Wildfires in Siberia and the Russian Far East are as much as 10 times worse compared to this time last year, as the climate crisis and the coronavirus pandemic join forces to fan the flames.

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Beaver ponds can help prevent erosion and reduce flooding after heavy precipitation. NPS / Kent Miller


Beavers often get a bad rap for cutting down trees and building unwanted ponds on private property.

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A person plants a pine tree sapling in the ground. Camerique / ClassicStock / Getty Images

Arbor Day is America's oldest environmental holiday, but how can you participate in the 148th celebration of this tree-planting festival when many Arbor Day events have been canceled to stop the spread of the new coronavirus?

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A winding, dry river in Nevada. A severe drought has engulfed the American Southwest since 2000 Bim / E+ / Getty Images

A severe drought that has engulfed the American Southwest since the year 2000 is likely to soon be the most severe drought since the 800s, according to a new study published in Science.

"This appears to be just the beginning of a more extreme trend toward megadrought as global warming continues," the authors wrote in the study.

A team of researchers from Columbia University conducted the study. They described the ongoing dry spell, which has helped intensify wildfire seasons and threatened water supplies for people and agriculture, as an "emerging megadrought," according to The New York Times.

Of course, nothing is guaranteed. By comparison to the previous 19 years, 2019 was actually a fairly wet year. Unpredictable climate variability may also bring enough rain to the region to end the drought, but global warming boosts the chances that the drought will endure.

"We know that this drought has been encouraged by the global warming process," said lead author A. Park Williams, a bioclimatologist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, as The New York Times reported. "As we go forward in time it's going to take more and more good luck to pull us out of this."

Scientists have suspected for a while that that the dryness is evolving into a megadrought. The new research not only confirms their suspicion, but also concludes this megadrought may be as bad or worse than anything known before.

"We now have enough observations of current drought and tree-ring records of past drought to say that we're on the same trajectory as the worst prehistoric droughts," said Williams, in a statement, as USA Today reported. This is "a drought bigger than what modern society has seen."

The researchers say that man-made global warming caused about half of this drought. Changes in the climate have contributed to dwindling reservoirs and harsher wildfire seasons.

It all could get much worse.

"Anthropogenic global warming and its drying influence in (southwestern North America) are likely still in their infancy," the study warns, as CNN reported. "The magnitude of future droughts in North America and elsewhere will depend greatly on future rates of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions globally."

Without a drastic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, these droughts are just the beginning.

"The effects of future droughts on humans will be further dependent on sustainable resource use because buffering mechanisms such as ground water and reservoir storage are at risk of being depleted during dry times," the study continues, according to CNN.

To conduct the study, the researchers performed a comprehensive long-term analysis of thousands of square miles, stretching across nine states from Oregon and Montana down through California, Arizona, New Mexico and part of northern Mexico. They looked at 1,200 years of tree ring data, modern weather observations and dozens of climate models, according to CBS News.

The tree rings allow scientist to gauge soil moisture dating back centuries. Williams and his team identified dozens of droughts across the region, starting in 800 AD. Four of those stand out as megadroughts — with extreme dryness that lasted for decades — in the late 800s, mid-1100s, the 1200s and the late 1500s.

The team then compared the ancient megadroughts to soil moisture records from the years 2000 to 2018. The current drought ranked as the second-driest, already outdoing the three earliest ones and on par with the fourth period which spanned from 1575 to 1603, as CBS News reported.

The warmer air during this drought is pulling more moisture from the ground, intensifying dry soils. Furthermore, temperatures in the West are expected to keep rising, meaning this trend is likely to continue.

"Because the background is getting warmer, the dice are increasingly loaded toward longer and more severe droughts," said Williams, as CBS News reported.

A wildfire burns in the Chernobyl exclusion zone April 5. YAROSLAV EMELIANENKO / AFP via Getty Images

Firefighters are battling to contain larger-than-usual wildfires in the Chernobyl exclusion zone as radiation levels spike at their center.

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