Scientists have warned that an extreme marine heat wave off the UK and Ireland coasts is posing a major threat to marine species. According to the official blog of the UK’s Met Office, the global sea surface temperatures for April and May of this year were the highest since records began in 1850.

Last month was the warmest May on record in the North Atlantic, with temperatures about 1.25 degrees Celsius higher than average over the 1961 to 1990 reference period.

“The extreme and unprecedented temperatures show the power of the combination of human-induced warming and natural climate variability like El Niño,” said Daniela Schmidt, a professor of earth sciences at the University of Bristol, as The Guardian reported. “While marine heatwaves are found in warmer seas like the Mediterranean, such anomalous temperatures in this part of the north Atlantic are unheard of. They have been linked to less dust from the Sahara but also the North Atlantic climate variability, which will need further understanding to unravel.”

The Met Office said El Niño will likely keep temperatures high, which can kill fish and other marine life.

“Heat, like on land, stresses marine organisms. In other parts of the world, we have seen several mass mortalities of marine plants and animals caused by ocean [heatwaves] which have caused hundreds of millions of pounds of losses, in fisheries income, carbon storage, cultural values and habitat loss. As long as we are not dramatically cutting emissions, these heatwaves will continue to destroy our ecosystems,” Schmidt said, as reported by The Guardian.

Humans also rely on the ocean for food, oxygen and carbon dioxide removal.

Factors such as lack of dust in the atmosphere and trade winds have also contributed to the increased ocean temperatures.

“Typically, airborne dust from the Sahara helps to cool this region by blocking and reflecting some of the sun’s energy; but weaker than average winds have reduced the extent of dust in the region’s atmosphere potentially leading to higher temperatures,” said professor Albert Klein Tank of the Met Office’s Hadley Centre in the Met Office blog.

The rising sea-surface temperatures could also influence hurricane season this year. Most North  Atlantic  hurricanes originate in the eastern tropical Atlantic, and warmer waters give tropical cyclones their energy. This year the Met Office forecast suggests that the number of cyclones and tropical storms in the North Atlantic basin will be above average.

Read the full article about heat waves in north Atlantic seas by Cristen Hemingway Jaynes at EcoWatch.