Water Distortion When Snorkeling

by Ken
(Provo, Utah, USA)

I have a question about water distortion when snorkeling. I was in Guam last week for work, and got a few chances to go out and snorkel. It was beautiful, and oh so relaxing.

One thing I noticed, that I don't recall running into elsewhere, was distortion in the water. In appearance it was like wavy lines in the water, and reminded me of heat haze in the desert. It appeared to be from differing water densities, perhaps fresh water, or different temperatures mixing? While moving forward, the view was very clear and crisp, but if I stopped, the distortion became very apparent. It was easy to capture in pictures, but is not visible in the smaller, lower resolution version I can post here.

I found myself needing to maintain forward motion in order to take decent photos and see fish clearly.

I only snorkeled in Tumon Bay, which is entirely ringed by reef, and very calm.

Has anyone else seen this, and know what causes it? My engineering brain won't let it rest, and I haven't been able to find anything online.

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Nov 14, 2018
Halocline and Thermocline
by: Nicole & Galen

Hi Ken, great question! We have experienced that numerous times. You are right in your guesses. It happens for two reasons.

One is fresh water that sits on top of salt water. It's called a halocline and has to do with differing densities of water. This happens a lot right after it rains or if there's a stream or spring nearby.

The other is called a thermocline, and it is where two different temperatures of water are not yet mixed.

When you are swimming forward if the conditions are right it can mix them and make visibility better.

Sometimes low visibility from a halocline or a thermocline can be very disconcerting.

Dec 02, 2018
Big Island Water Distortion
by: Laura

I experienced this at Two Steps on the Big Island, Hawaii. At the time I assumed it was the fresh water coming out and through the lava rock in the bay. When I moved away from the rocks, the phenomenon cleared. Trippy!

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