Social media photo shows glacial runoff hitting Gulf of Alaska, not two oceans

At first glance on Facebook, a viral photo appears to show off an earthly marvel: the stark line dividing the differently shaded waters of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. 

The Facebook account on July 23 described the photo as being taken where “the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean face each other without mixing.” 

But this isn’t what’s happening in the picture. The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its news feed. (Read more about PolitiFact’s partnership with Facebook.)

Several publications have determined that the photo was taken in the Gulf of Alaska. (The Atlantic and Pacific Ocean meet at the southernmost tip of South America.)

According to Science Focus, the discoloration between the masses of water in the photo is actually “showing light-coloured, sediment-rich freshwater from melted glaciers meeting dark, salty ocean water in the Gulf of Alaska (and over time, currents and eddies cause these to mix, too).” The amount of glacial runoff causes a delay in the bodies from mixing, and the amount of time it takes for the two to merge can create the color effect.

Heidi Dierssen, professor of marine science and geography at the University of Connecticut, agreed, saying that the photo shows “fronts of different water mass from rivers and ocean.”

The account provided an article for its claim, but Dierssen said it contained some errors. It claimed that the different densities and chemical compositions of each ocean causes the difference in color. Dierssen explained that ocean properties, including color, are highly dependent on latitude and the ocean gyres in ocean basins.

“The Atlantic has higher salinity than the Pacific, but the temperature and color (related to chlorophyll properties) are more related to nutrients and upwelling and downwelling related to the ocean gyres,” she said. 

The photo is real, but the caption about it showing two oceans is wrong. For that reason, we rate this claim False.

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