Phenomena

Meeting Without Mixing

An aerial photo of the confluence of the dark blue-green Back River with the paler Hayes river shows a distinct line where the two water sources meet but do not mix.

When bodies of water meet, they don’t always mix right away. Here we see the confluence of the Back and Hayes Rivers in the Canadian Arctic. The Back River appears as a darker blue-green color compared to the light turquoise Hayes River. The different colors reflect the levels of algae and sediment carried in their waters. As seen in both the aerial and satellite photos here, there’s a distinct line where the two waters meet without mixing, and that line persists for kilometers beyond their initial confluence. Typically, this lack of mixing between bodies of water is caused by differences in temperature, salinity, and turbidity (amount of sediment) that make the density of each river’s water different. (Image credit: top – R. Macdonald/Univ. of Manitoba, bottom – J. Stevens/USGS; via NASA Earth Observatory)

A satellite photo of the Back and Hayes Rivers shows their distinctly different colors persisting for 10+ kilometers after their confluence.
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