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Acid Rain



Acid rain is rain consisting of water droplets that are unusually acidic because of atmospheric pollution - most notably the excessive amounts of sulfur and nitrogen released by cars and industrial processes. Acid rain is also called acid deposition because this term includes other forms of acidic precipitation such as snow.


Acid deposition can occur via natural sources like volcanoes but it is mainly caused by the release of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide during fossil fuel combustion. When these gases are discharged into the atmosphere they react with the water, oxygen, and other gases already present there to form sulfuric acid, ammonium nitrate, and nitric acid. These acids then disperse over large areas because of wind patterns and fall back to the ground as acid rain or other forms of precipitation.

Effects of Acid Rain- There are several important impacts of acid deposition on both natural and man-made environments. Aquatic settings are the most clearly impacted by acid deposition though because acidic precipitation falls directly into them. Both dry and wet deposition also runs off of forests, fields, and roads and flows into lakes, rivers, and streams.

As this acidic liquid flows into larger bodies of water, it is diluted but over time, acids can accrue and lower the overall pH of the body. Acid deposition also causes clay soils to release aluminum and magnesium further lowering the pH in some areas. If the pH of a lake drops below 4.8, its plants and animals risk death and it is estimated that around 50,000 lakes in the United States and Canada have a pH below normal (about 5.3 for water). Several hundred of these have a pH too low to support any aquatic life.

Damage to forests by acid rain is seen all over the world, but the most advanced cases are in Eastern Europe. It’s estimated that in Germany and Poland, half of the forests are damaged, while 30% in Switzerland have been affected.

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