Acid rain describes any form of precipitation that contains 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. Normal rain is slightly acidic, with a pH of 5.6, while acid rain generally has a pH between 4.2 and 4.4.
Causes of acid rain:
1)Rotting vegetation and erupting volcanoes release some chemicals that can cause acid rain, but most acid rain is a product of human activities. The biggest sources are coal-burning power plants, factories, and automobiles.
2)When humans burn fossil fuels, sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) are released into the atmosphere. Those air pollutants react with water, oxygen, and other substances to form airborne sulfuric and nitric acid. Winds may spread these acidic compounds through 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.
Effects of acid rain:
1) Sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides are not primary greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming, one of the main effects of climate change; in fact, sulfur dioxide has a cooling effect on the atmosphere. But nitrogen oxides contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone, a major pollutant that can be harmful to people. Both gases cause environmental and health concerns because they can spread easily via air pollution and acid rain.
2) Acid rain has many ecological effects, especially on lakes, streams, wetlands, and other aquatic environments. Acid rain makes such waters more acidic, which results in more aluminum absorption from soil, which is carried into lakes and streams. That combination makes waters toxic to crayfish, clams, fish, and other aquatic animals. (Learn more about the effects of water pollution.)
What can be done?
1)The only way to fight acid rain is by curbing the release of the pollutants that cause it. This means burning fewer fossil fuels and setting air-quality standards.
2)In the U.S., the Clean Air Act of 1990 targeted acid rain, putting in place pollution limits that helped cut sulfur dioxide emissions 88 percent between 1990 and 2017. Air-quality standards have also driven U.S. emissions of nitrogen dioxide down 50 percent in the same time period. These trends have helped red spruce forests in New England and some fish populations, for example, recover from acid rain damage. But recovery takes time, and soils in the northeastern U.S. and eastern Canada have only recently shown signs of stabilizing nutrients.
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