Reader Questions

Reader Question: Oceans Meeting?

Reader favoringfire asks:

Hi! Maybe you can help me: I’ve seen a pic revolving around Tumblr from the Danish city of Skagen showing the Baltic and North sea meeting. Where they meet the ocean is two very distinct hues of blue–what captions say are “two opposing tides with different densities.” Tides? Currents w/different temps often are often diff color from one another. But can “tides” be of different “densities???”

After some searching, I think the photo above is probably the one you’ve seen represented as where the Baltic and North Seas meet. It turns out, however, that it’s not. It’s a photo from an Alaskan cruise taken by Kent Smith. Fluid dynamically, though, it’s still very interesting! What we see here is a sharp gradient between regions with very different densities. One side contains lots of freshwater from rivers fed by melting glaciers, which creates a very different density from the general seawater.

It’s not true, however, that the two won’t mix. This border is not a static phenomenon but one that is ever-changing due to currents and the diffusion of one fluid into another. In a sense, this photo is very much the sea-level version of photos like these which show the massive scale of sediment transport and nutrient mixing that occur in our oceans.

(Photo credit: K. Smith)

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