WASHINGTON — Ocean surface temperatures around the world were the warmest on record for the month of June, according to federal scientists, though they caution that one month doesn't necessarily imply global warming.
The warmer temperatures do confirm that an ocean phenomenon known as El Nino is building in the Pacific Ocean.
Some scientists think the rising temperatures hint at broader changes, perhaps resulting from global climate change. Environmentalists and fishermen are wary of what it may mean.
"It's really kind of disturbing," said Zeke Grader, the executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, based in San Francisco. "What we've seen right offshore here is a real variation in temperature. But we don't know what to expect in the future."
So far, the year has been among the warmest on record for ocean temperatures, ranking sixth based on January through June. The June temperature averaged 62.56 degrees; the 20th century average was 61.5 degrees. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has been keeping the records since 1880.
"The high ocean temperatures can threaten coral reefs, provide more energy to hurricanes, cause thermal expansion, which would raise sea level and inundate coasts, force the relocation of some aquatic species and thus impact fisheries," said Ahira Sanchez-Lugo, a climate scientist with NOAA.
The hottest spots compared with historical temperatures were the north Pacific south of Alaska, along the U.S. West Coast and the Atlantic Ocean off New England.