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When rain becomes unusually acidic, it is known as Acid Rain. The acidic nature of rain is
because of atmospheric pollution which results from excessive amounts of sulfur and nitrogen
released by cars and industrial processes. The acid can also take the form of snow, mists and dry
Acid rain is also called acid deposition because this term includes other forms of acidic
precipitation such as snow. Acidic deposition occurs in two ways: wet and dry. Wet deposition is
any form of precipitation (rain, snowfall, and hailstorm) that removes acids from the atmosphere
and deposits them on the Earths surface. Dry deposition polluting particles and gases stick to the
ground via dust and smoke in the absence of precipitation. This form of deposition is dangerous
because precipitation can eventually wash pollutants into streams, lakes, and rivers.
What is Acidity?
Acidity is measured using a scale called the pH scale. This scale goes from 0 to 14. 0 is the
most acidic and 14 is the most alkaline (opposite of acidic). Something with a pH value of 7,
we call neutral, this means that it is neither acidic nor alkaline. Very strong acids will burn if
they touch your skin and can even destroy metals. Vinegar has a pH value of 2.2 and lemon
juice has a value of pH2.3.
Acid rain is much, much weaker than this, never acidic enough to burn your skin. Rain is
always slightly acidic because it mixes with naturally occurring oxides in the air. Unpolluted
rain would have a pH value of between 5 and 6. When the air becomes more polluted with
nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxide the acidity can increase to a pH value of 4. Some rain has
even been recorded as being pH2.

Causes of Acid Rain

Acid rain is a result of air pollution. When any type of fuel is burnt, lots of different chemicals
are produced. The smoke that comes from a fire or the fumes that come out of a car exhaust don't
just contain the sooty grey particles but they also contains lots of invisible gases that can be even
more harmful to our environment. Power stations, factories and cars all burn fuels and therefore
they all produce polluting gases. Some of these gases especially nitrogen oxides and sulphur
dioxide react with the tiny droplets of water in clouds to form sulphuric and nitric acids. The rain
from these clouds is known as "acid rain".
Acid deposition can also 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. The gases responsible for acid deposition are normally a byproduct of electric
power generation and the burning of coal.

History of Acid Rain

The harmful gases began entering the atmosphere in large amounts during the Industrial
Revolution and were first discovered by a Scottish chemist, Robert Angus Smith, in 1852. In that
year, he discovered the relationship between acid rain and atmospheric pollution in Manchester,
England. Although it was discovered in the 1800s, acid deposition did not gain significant public
attention until the 1960s and the term acid rain was coined in 1972. Public attention further
increased in the 1970s when the New York Times published reports about problems occurring in
the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in New Hampshire.

Effects of Acid Rain

The rain sometimes falls many miles from the source of pollution but wherever it falls it can
have a serious effect on soil, trees, buildings and water.
a) Impact on Water Bodies: 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, acids can accrue and lower the overall pH of the body.
As the acidity of a lake increases, the water becomes clearer and the numbers of fish and other
water animals decline. If the pH of a lake drops below 4.8, its plants and animals risk death.
Freshwater shrimps, snails, mussels are the most quickly affected by acidification followed by
fish such as minnows, salmon and roach. The roe and fry (eggs and young) of the fish are the
worst affected, the acidity of the water can cause deformity in young fish and can prevent eggs
from hatching properly. The acidity of the water does not just affect species directly, it also
causes toxic substances like aluminium to be released into the water from the soil, harming fish
and other aquatic animals.
b) Impact on Forests: Aside from aquatic bodies, acid deposition can significantly impact
forests. As acid rain falls on trees, it can make them lose their leaves, damage their bark, and
stunt their growth. By damaging these parts of the tree, it makes them vulnerable to disease,
extreme weather, and insects. Acid Rain wears away the waxy protective coating of leaves,
damaging them and preventing them from being able to photosynthesize properly. Acid rain can
cause trees to grow more slowly or even to die.
Trees at high altitudes are also susceptible to problems induced by acidic cloud cover as the
moisture in the clouds blankets them. Damage to forests by acid rain is seen all over the world,
but the most advanced cases are in Eastern Europe. Its estimated that in Germany and Poland,
half of the forests are damaged, while 30% in Switzerland have been affected.
c) Impact on Soil: Acid deposition also causes clay soils to release aluminum and magnesium
further lowering the pH in some areas. Acid falling on a soil disrupts soil nutrients, kills
microorganisms in the soil, and can sometimes cause a calcium deficiency.

d) Impact on Architecture: Finally, acid deposition also has an impact on architecture and art
because of its ability to corrode certain materials. As acid lands on buildings especially those
constructed with limestone, it reacts with minerals in the stones sometimes causing it to
disintegrate and wash away. Acid deposition can also corrode modern buildings, cars, railroad
tracks, airplanes, steel bridges, and pipes above and below ground.

Solution to Acid Rain:

a) Reducing Emissions: Acid Rains main source is emission by human activities. So, the first
and foremost step is to reduce the emissions. This can de done by various ways like shifting to
renewable energy sources, strict government actions, treatment of gases before releasing into
environment and using more eco-friendly equipment. Governments need to spend more money
on pollution control even if it does mean an increase in the price of electricity. Sulphur can also
be 'washed' out of smoke by spraying a mixture of water and powdered limestone into the
smokestack. Cars are now fitted with catalytic converters which remove dangerous chemicals
from exhaust gases.
b) Find alternative sources of energy: Governments need to invest in researching different
ways to produce energy. Two other sources that are currently used are hydroelectric and nuclear
power. Other sources could be solar energy or windmills.
c) Conserving Resources: Government can give subsidies on public transport to encourage
people to use public transport rather than travelling by car. Every individual can make an effort
to save energy by switching off lights when they are not being used and using energy-saving
appliances. Walking, cycling and sharing cars all reduce the pollution from vehicles.
d) Restoring the Damage done by Acid Rain: Lakes and rivers can have powdered limestone
added to them to neutralize the water - this is called "liming". Liming, however, is expensive and
its effects are only temporary - it needs to be continued until the acid rain stops.