Even though the name could suggest so, acid rain doesn’t seem so scary – at least at first glance. It can resemble a usual downpour since it doesn’t have a distinctive smell or color. The difference is visible only after a while, in the surrounding environment. Acid precipitation can have a devastating influence on the whole ecosystem, weakening the plants, eroding the soil, and reducing the animal populations.
The influence of acid rain is not “spectacular” – and that’s a part of the problem. The damage it causes progresses relatively slow, and thus, its origins can sometimes be misinterpreted. Just as air pollution (from which it originates), acid rain can affect human health, but in most cases, it takes years to become visible. As a result, many health problems never get linked to this anthropogenic problem.
Acid rain is one of how the gathered air pollution gets released from the atmosphere. Accumulated toxic gases and particulate matter fall back on the Earth’s surface in the form of rain, causing all sorts of damage. It’s not only human’s fault – the natural phenomena, such as volcano eruptions or wildfires, can lead to acid rains as well. However, with anthropogenic activity, the scale of this problem has grown to an unprecedented scale.
When the rain’s pH exceeds the value of 5.6, it can be considered acidic.
As we’ve mentioned, acid rain can have a natural and anthropogenic background. Let’s focus on the second mentioned to understand the impact of human activity on this growing problem.
Among anthropogenic sources of acid rain, there are:
Both nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide can cause acid rain. The gas released in the burning process ties with the water molecule in the atmosphere. That causes an acidification of the precipitation. Sulfur and nitric acid are the main pollutants, but water gets into a reaction with carbon oxides as well.
Sulfur is the main side product of burning fossil fuels – carbon, petroleum, heating oil, etc. The more polluted the product is, the more sulfur dioxide gets released into the air. Nitrogen oxide emissions are mainly a result of fuel burning in cars, tied to the release of exhaust fumes. Industrial activity – such as ironworks and petrochemicals – is to blame as well.
As you can see, acid deposition is a direct result of various types of human activity, being a side product of air pollution. Since the problem was widely acknowledged in recent years, the local, governmental, and community regulations (for example, within the European Union) have introduced directives which are supposed to fight it. The industrial units were obliged to limit their emissions by using filters, and so were the car owners (particularly the diesel-fuelled ones).
The ways to avoid acid deposition in the rain coincide with these to fight air pollution. We can do it by:
The strategies of local authorities should obviously facilitate these changes. Investing in the net of affordable public transportation, making the cities more walkable, co-financing the solar installations – all these initiatives can stop the vicious circle of pollution.
The acid rains have a negative influence on all the life on Earth. They pollute both soil and freshwater aquatic systems. It can cause direct damage to the plant structures and disrupt the photosynthesis process. Moreover, acidification influences the plant’s resistance to fungal infections and pests. That can affect the crops’ volume and quality. The soil also suffers. The increasing pH makes it impossible for many plants to grow healthy.
It’s not only the organic matter that gets affected by this phenomenon. Acid rain can also have a damaging influence on the architecture since it makes the limestone and concrete dissolve.
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