Acid Rain: What Caused It And What It May Cause?

Acid Rain: What Caused It And What It May Cause?

Among those pollution-caused natural threads, acid rain is the most visible one. Acid rain is like normal rain but more acidic due to the presence of certain pollutants in the air as a result of vehicles emission gas and industrial process.

Acid rain happens when abundant level of pollutants which mostly contain Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) and Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) are infusing with the water vapor in the atmosphere.

When those gasses react with the water molecules and oxygen, acidic chemical compounds such as sulfuric and nitric acid are formed. The reaction itself results in acid rain.

Acid rain is considered dangerous because of its acidic nature that makes it corrosive to things that it pours on. Thus, results in dying plants and animals and decaying man-made architectures. there are several other effects that it may bring that will be explained later.

Causes of Acid Rain

air pollution (Alfed Palmer)
air pollution (Alfed Palmer)

In common, there are two things that cause acid rain. The first one is natural causes, which includes volcanic activity. The volcanic emissions from volcanoes is major causal of this rain.

Volcanoes emits acid producing gases to create higher than normal amounts of acid rain of other kind of precipitation such as fog or snow that may affect vegetation and population in its surrounding.

Biological processes that includes decaying vegetation and wildfires may emit dimethyl sulfide. This gas is major contributor in the building up of sulfur containing elements in the atmosphere.

Lightning strikers also has natural ability to form some kind of nitric oxides which is able to react with water elements in atmosphere. Thereby, those chemicals can form acidic compound in the clouds and form acid rain.

The second cause is man-made sources that mainly embrace air pollution caused by human activity in industry. The air pollution may come from factories, power generation facilities, and automobiles.

The use of coal for electrical power generation is its current biggest cause from man-made sources that cause acid rain. The gas produced by burning the coal is the main cause from this process which are sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx).

Automobiles and factories also release high amount of gas emissions in daily basis. The gasses produced by those industrial and automobile activities may react with water and oxygen in the atmosphere to form the acidic compounds.

The acidic compounds as the result of the reactions are then blown by the wind to other places on earth. The compounds then pour down to earth in the form of acid rain and then get absorbed by the soil or flow into water bodies like lakes, rivers and finally enter the ocean.

The Effects Of Acid Rain To Nature

Acid rain woods
Acid rain woods

There are many effects that the acid rain may cause and those effects are always destructive to the environment. Even to human, acid rain may cause major health problems. That is why we should learn about the effects of this rain.

Whenever the acidic compounds which fall to the earth enter water bodies like lakes or ocean, it will get accumulated in the water bodies. The accumulation will result in the change of water pH, while aquatic plants and animals are very sensitive to the change of pH.

Most aquatic animals and plants need pH level about 4.8 to survive. At pH below 5, fish eggs cannot hatch and even lower pH will kill adult fish. In some places where the water bodies have become so acidic, it even results in reduced biodiversity.

To the forests and other vegetations, acid rain is hazardous to the health of the floras. Acid rain makes trees vulnerable to diseases and extreme weather by destroying their leaves. The most damaged evidences can be found in Eastern Europe.

Not only that, acid rain can hamper the growth of the plants. The change of pH in the soil sometimes even result in death of the plants directly or indirectly.

The direct effect is because of soil’s high acidity, while the indirect effect is the death of microorganisms inside the soil. Hydrogen ions of acid rain also leach away vital minerals and nutrients such as calcium and magnesium.

The Effects Of Acid Rain To Human

Damaged by acid rain (Nino Barbieri)
Damaged by acid rain (Nino Barbieri)

Not only to the nature, acid rain also has its effects to human and human’s life. It can affect human’s health if the chemical compounds in the dry depositions of acid rain are inhaled. The chemical compounds responsible for this are nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide.

The health effect it can bring tends to the lungs and heart problems. Known diseases which are caused by the dry depositions are bronchitis and asthma. The aluminum compound in acid rain is also predicted to cause Alzheimer.

Acid rain may also cause irritation of throat, nose, and eyes if those areas directly touch the water precipitation that contain nitrogen oxide and sulfur oxide. However, the pouring acid rain doesn’t directly affect human skin’s health because the water is too dilute.

In other aspects of human life, acid rain with its corrosive nature may lead to weathering of buildings, corrosion on metals, and peeling of paints on surfaces. Limestone and marbles are the most affected materials known.

The effects can be easily seen in statues, monuments, and gravestones. In addition, metal constructions such as bridges and pipes and also painted possessions like cars are easily affected by the pouring acid rain.

How To Minimize The Risk?

Origins of acid rain (Wikimedia Commons)
Origins of acid rain (Wikimedia Commons)

Aside from natural causes, industrial activities are also known to cause the acid rain. Hence, to minimize its occurrence and risk, there are several steps that we can do. The main thing to do is reducing the number of sulfur and nitrogen emission into the atmosphere.

Using alternative energy source other than coals is a great to reduce the sulfur and nitrogen amount emission. As we know, the burning of coals is the main contributor of those chemical compounds emission in the atmosphere.

Alternative energy sources for vehicles is also a great way to reduce the amount of air pollution. Or for those vehicles, some kind of pollutant filter in form of catalytic converter can be applied to reduce the emission.

Many governments in many countries are also requiring the industries to clean up exhaust pipes and smokestacks. The use of devices known as “scrubbers” is the solution for those industries to minimize the emission that may cause acid rain.


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