Acid Rain

Acid rain is an unusually acidic type of precipitation caused by air pollution. When certain pollutants emitted from cars, planes, and other fuel burning sources enter the atmosphere, they often react with the small droplets of moisture in clouds and form nitric and sulfuric acids. As a result, the rain that falls from these clouds is a type of light acid, known simply as “acid rain”.

The acidity of acid rain is measured using the pH scale, which ranges from 0 to 14. 14 is the least acidic, while 0 is the most. Some people are under the impression that acid rain poses an immediate risk to humans because of the name. While many acids are extremely dangerous and can seriously harm you if they come in contact with your skin, acid rain is a vastly weaker acid, and does not pose any significant risk (it will not burn your skin).

As it is, rain is already naturally acidic to some degree, due to the oxides it encounters in the atmosphere. Rain unaffected by pollution usually measures about a 5-6 on the pH scale. In instances where pollution is present, pH concentration regularly reaches 4, and in some cases has been recorded as high as 2. To help put the acidity into perspective, lemon juice has a pH value of about 2.3.

“Acid rain” is not necessarily limited to the form of rain. It may also take shape as snowfall, mist, or even dry dust. It can also travel great distances before falling, so often time acid rain falls in areas other than where it was initially formed.

There is great concern and also a bit of uncertainty as to the effects of acid rainfall on forests. Studies of its effect have concluded the following:
- It may dissolve important nutrients in the soil that the local trees depend on.
- It may facilitate the release of harmful substances from the ground which may then harm the trees.
- Acid rain may strip the waxy coating of leaves, damaging them and rendering them incapable of properly photosynthesizing.

In addition to the above mentioned possible side-effects, the trees may also potentially be left in a general state of vulnerability. A significant impact on the trees will likely have a trickle down effect, impacting all forms of life in that particular ecosystem.

Lakes, rivers and other freshwater bodies are impacted most drastically by acid rain. Depending on the acidity and abundance of the acid rainfall, a significant decrease in the fish population may be observed. While some types of plants and algae are actually more inclined to thrive in more acidic conditions, most other types of aquatic life are not and depending on the pH levels of the precipitation, may or may not be able to survive altogether.

Up until recently, acid rain was thought to be a local matter, but now scientists have learned that acid rain often develops and then travels great distances, sometimes even across oceans. Now that we know that our actions are affecting other nations (and vise versa), it’s an even better reason to cut down on carbon emissions and counteract the problem, and an opportunity to set an example for the people and governments of other parts of the world.