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Acid rains and their destructive power on the environment

Acid rains and their destructive power on the environment

Lately manmade acid rains have been on the rise. Before we can stop them, we need to understand what they are in the first place.

Acid rain is a rain or any other form of precipitation that is unusually acidic, meaning that it has elevated levels of hydrogen ions (low pH). It can have harmful effects on plants, aquatic animals and infrastructure. Acid rain is caused by emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, which react with the water molecules in the atmosphere to produce acids.

Cause:

The term acid rain was coined in 1852 by Scottish chemist Robert Angus Smith, according to the Royal Society of Chemistry, which calls him the "father of acid rain." Smith decided on the term while examining rainwater chemistry near industrial cities in England and Scotland. He wrote about his findings in 1872 in the book "Air and Rain: The Beginnings of a Chemical Climatology."

Though manmade pollutants are currently affecting most acidic precipitation, natural disasters can be a factor as well. For example, volcanoes can cause acid rain by blasting pollutants into the air. These pollutants can be carried around the world in jet streams and turned into acid rain far from the volcano.

Sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) released into the air by fossil-fuel power plants, vehicles and oil refineries are the biggest cause of acid rain today, according to the EPA. Two thirds of sulfur dioxide and one fourth of nitrogen oxide found in the atmosphere come from electric power generators.

A chemical reaction happens when sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides mix with water, oxygen and other chemicals in the air. They then become sulfuric and nitric acids that mix with precipitation and fall to the ground. Precipitation is considered acidic when its pH level is about 5.2 or below, according to Encyclopedia Britannica. The normal pH of rain is around 5.6.

​Effects:

Acid rain affects nearly everything. Plants, soil, trees, buildings and even statues can be transformed by the precipitation.

Acid rain can also change the composition of soil and bodies of water, making them uninhabitable for local animals and plants. For example, healthy lakes have a pH of 6.5 or higher. As acid rain raises the level of acidity, fish tend to die off. Most fish species can't survive a water pH of below 5. When the pH becomes a 4, the lake is considered dead, according to National Atmospheric Deposition Program.

It can additionally deteriorate limestone and marble buildings and monuments, like gravestones.

Learn more about the topic


To educate more on the topic read Wikipedias page on acid rain or LiveScience article on the topic.

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