What Is Acid Rain
Acid rain is not what most of us think it is. Rain alone is not considered acid rain.
Rain is always partly acidic, but acid rain is rain or moisture combined with the acidic components, nitric and sulfuric acid. Rain usually has a pH of a little less than six, more acidic than pure water, but acid rain could even reach four pH.
The world has known about acid rain since Scottish chemist Robert Angus Smith discovered it in 1852. He noticed the difference in rainwater chemistry around industrial cities. By the 1970s, acid rain was a well-known occurrence affecting environments in eastern North America and Western Europe.
Wet and Dry Deposition
Acid rain falls to the ground in both wet and dry forms such as fog, snow, hail, dust, and gasses. Wet deposition is another name for wet types of acid rain, while dry forms are called dry deposition. Wet deposition is the most common way we view acid rain, falling to the ground with rain, fog, snow, and hail. However, when there is an absence of moisture, acidic particles and gases may deposit to vegetation, bodies of water, and buildings. When these acids are washed to the ground by rain, it becomes harmful to wildlife, plants, fish, and insects.
What Causes Acid Rain
When sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides are released into the atmosphere, they can end up combining and reacting with other chemicals. Depending on the materials they mix with, the mixture can develop into acid rain before falling due to several different situations.
Natural disasters such as volcano eruptions release pollutants into the air, triggering acid rain production that can reach even further than the volcano’s perimeter. In 2014, scientists proposed that the dinosaur-killing asteroid that hit the earth millions of years ago caused acid rain in the days following the impact. This asteroid could explain why marine life in the deep sea survived, as they would not have encountered the sulfuric acid. Geologists believe acid rain also occurred billions of years ago.
One of the biggest generators of acid rain today is the burning of fossil fuels. Electric power generators release much of the sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides in the atmosphere. Oil refineries and vehicles also account for the production of acid rain.
The Wind Carries Acidic Components
The acidic components in one region can find their way across borders and form acid rain in other countries, meaning that acid rain is a problem even if one doesn’t live near power plants or oil refineries.
Over the past several decades, Norway has encountered an increase in acid rain across their nation. Experts believe that the acid rain generated in Great Britain is carried towards Norway, contributing to the rise mentioned above in acid rain across Norway.
Due to the potential transfer of acid rain across national boundaries, an increasing number of governments are expressing concern that acid rain is detrimental to the environment. The first step in addressing the increase in acid rain should begin with the reduction of sulfur emissions.
Governments can regulate the emissions released by industries and vehicles by promoting the use of sustainable energy. More accessible and affordable wind and solar power can entice consumers to use environmentally-friendly energy instead of fossil fuels.
The general public can contribute by saving on electricity and lowering the use of driving one’s vehicle. Walking, bicycling, or commuting via public transport can help take a load off the environment as well. Not only will you be helping the environment, but walking and bicycling will improve your health and well-being.
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