Temperatures are already breaking records this year: Last month was the warmest May for the world’s oceans since record-keeping began in 1850, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The average ocean temperature throughout May was 1.53 degrees Fahrenheit, or 0.85 degree Celsius, higher than normal for the month.
For the planet as a whole May was the third warmest on record, the agency said on Thursday in its monthly climate update. North and South America had their warmest Mays on record.
In the United States, rising temperatures hit Washington State and northern Idaho especially hard. Two cities in Washington, Bellingham and Spokane, as well as smaller communities in the region, set records for their warmest Mays.
Why It Matters: Heat can harm ocean life and feed wildfires.
Warmer water tends to hold less oxygen, and large-scale fish die-offs may happen earlier in the year as the climate continues to warm. Last week, thousands of dead fish washed up on Texas beaches from unusually warm waters and lack of oxygen in the Gulf of Mexico. Across the ocean, higher temperatures contribute to coral reefs dying. The ocean also expands as it warms, raising sea levels even further on top of the added water from melting ice sheets.
Last month’s unusual heat contributed to Canada’s spate of wildfires. As wildfire smoke spread, air quality in western Canada and the northern Great Plains in the United States deteriorated significantly. More recently, the wildfire smoke reached cities in the Northeast and Midwest, causing Air Quality Index readings to skyrocket across much of the country.
Extreme heat can be dangerous to humans as well as wildlife. Over the next several days, parts of Florida, Louisiana and Texas are bracing for potential triple-digit temperatures, which put people at risk, especially if they work outdoors or lack air-conditioning.