Amazing Facts

Acid Rain Facts

Acid rain describes any form of precipitation

with high levels of nitric and sulfuric acids. It can also occur in the

form of snow, fog, and tiny bits of dry material that settle to Earth.

Rotting vegetation and erupting volcanoes release some chemicals that

can cause acid rain, but most acid rain falls because of human

activities. The biggest culprit is the burning of fossil fuels by

coal-burning power plants, factories, and automobiles.

When humans burn fossil fuels, sulfur dioxide

(SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) are released into the atmosphere. These

chemical gases react with water, oxygen, and other substances to form

mild solutions of sulfuric and nitric acid. Winds may spread these

acidic solutions across the atmosphere and over hundreds of miles. When

acid rain reaches Earth, it flows across the surface in runoff water,

enters water systems, and sinks into the soil.

Acid rain has many ecological effects, but none is greater than its

impact on lakes, streams, wetlands, and other aquatic environments.

Acid rain makes waters acidic and causes them to absorb the aluminum

that makes its way from soil into lakes and streams. This combination

makes waters toxic to crayfish, clams, fish, and other aquatic animals.

Some species can tolerate acidic waters better than others. However, in

an interconnected ecosystem, what impacts some species eventually

impacts many more throughout the food chain-including non-aquatic

species such as birds.

Acid rain also damages forests, especially those at higher elevations.

It robs the soil of essential nutrients and releases aluminum in the

soil, which makes it hard for trees to take up water. Trees' leaves and

needles are also harmed by acids.

The effects of acid rain, combined with other environmental stressors,

leave trees and plants less able to withstand cold temperatures,

insects, and disease. The pollutants may also inhibit trees' ability to

reproduce. Some soils are better able to neutralize acids than others.

In areas where the soil's "buffering capacity" is low, the harmful

effects of acid rain are much greater.

The only way to fight acid rain is by curbing the release of the

pollutants that cause it. This means burning fewer fossil fuels. Many

governments have tried to curb emissions by cleaning up industry

smokestacks and promoting alternative fuel sources. These efforts have

met with mixed results. But even if acid rain could be stopped today,

it would still take many years for its harmful effects to disappear.

Related Tags: Pollution  Rain  Acid  
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