What Causes Acid Rain?


Acid rain is the latest in a long line of environmental issues that seem to be getting worse with each passing year.

flying through acid rain
flying through acid rain (click here for original source image)

According to some environmentalist scientists, acid rain is contributing to many environmental problems worldwide. Instead of restoring plant life to forests, acid rain eats away at sensitive trees and wildlife. In the areas where it has been found, the affected trees are dying at rates much faster than normal. Meanwhile, fish stocks are being threatened as well.

This is not the first time acid deposition has caused drastic changes in the environment. Long before man arrived on the scene, there were already some signs of acidification. The buildup of carbon dioxide and methane by living organisms in the environment has created a greenhouse effect that keeps Earth warm. As carbon dioxide and methane escape into the atmosphere, they react with water and air to form acids. These harmful gases have already had an impact on the atmosphere, but now additional effects from acid deposition could wreak even greater havoc.

Acid rain affects the ground as well as the atmosphere, although it has less of an effect on the earth’s climate. Ground water that has acidification will eventually run dry. Meanwhile, acidic lakes and streams are being threatened by overuse for water and waste treatment facilities, along with runoff from landfills.

Global warming is believed to be a major contributor to acid rain. As the atmosphere becomes more acidic, there is a positive feedback cycle that begins. The more acid rain is produced, the more harmful sulfur dioxide is produced. If the amount of sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere is large enough, clouds are more likely to block the sun out completely, reducing the amount of sunlight that reaches the Earth’s surface. Less sun means less energy available to us, causing less warming.

Another theory about what causes acid rain has to do with burning fossil fuels. More, scientists are suggesting that we should move away from our use of coal and replace it with clean renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power. These energy sources are cleaner and can be used indefinitely. Burning fossil fuels, however, emit harmful gases and pollutants that are potentially damaging to the atmosphere for long-term usage.

Global cooling is also considered a factor in what causes acid deposition. When the planet becomes too cold, it makes the air less oxygen saturated. Some of this air is replaced by lower carbon dioxide concentrations. As this takes place, less carbon dioxide is being absorbed by the oceans, and less is being released into the atmosphere. This produces a greenhouse effect that, in turn, creates more acidification.

Global warming is believed to have caused another aspect of the issue: rising levels of atmospheric pressure. As the planet’s temperature climbs, there is less moisture in the upper atmosphere. That leads to more burning of fossil fuels to produce heat. But as the Earth’s temperature increases, more precipitation can be absorbed by the ground to replenish it. Those higher-level winds, meanwhile, carry smaller amounts of dissolved oxygen around the planet.

All of these elements combine to produce one big problem: the excess amount of carbon dioxide is being absorbed into the atmosphere, and it is being changed into other gasses, including nitrogen oxides, which cause acid rain. Scientists are trying to come up with solutions that will mitigate the problem, though they do not have a definite plan in mind just yet. Although it is suspected that man-made emissions of certain gasses play a major role in Acid Rain, it is still up for debate. As of now, we only have observations of the atmosphere.

Provided by Antonio Westley

Disclaimer: This article is meant to be seen as an overview of this subject and not a reflection of viewpoints or opinions as nothing is definitive. So, make sure to do your research and feel free to use this information at your own discretion.

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