Acid Rain 6 Essay, Research Paper
It s Bringing Down Our Ecosystems
“Acid rain is a term used to describe the acidity of wet and dry deposition” (Middleton 50). Deposition is just the process of depositing. According to Middleton, who wrote the Atlas of Environmental Issues, the different types of wet deposition are snow, sleet, hail, fog, mist and dew. This is also known as acid precipitation. Ash, soot, and gases are types of dry deposition. Many environmental effects have been attributed to acid rain. Such effects are damage to lakes, streams, groundwater, forests, agriculture, statues, buildings and human health. Acid rain has become an important issue around the world because once pollution is out in the air, it can cast out and received over long ranges. This means that acid rain from one country can cause harm to another country (50).
Patel, who wrote the article Acid Rain, suggests that acid rain is rain that has a low pH. Normally, rain is acidic because of the carbon dioxide that animals exhale. Rain becomes acidic from gases that disintegrate into the rain water. These gases out in the atmosphere give rain a pH of or around 5.0. Before the Industrial Revolution the pH of rain was generally between 5 and 6, so the term acid rain is now used to describe rain with a pH below 5. In areas where there are volcanoes, rain can be as low as 4.0 due to sulfuric acid ( Acid Rain What is Acid Rain? par 1).
Middleton states that acid rain affects cities. It can damage vegetation, can speed up the disintegration of building stone, and can cause damage to a person’s health. The Internet article Acid Rain and Deposition by Gow and Pidwimy reports that “emissions of sulfur dioxide are responsible for 60-70 % of the acid deposition that occurs globally. People have put more than 90 percent of sulfur in the air by using aerosols and burning fossil fuels. Coal contains 2-3 percent sulfur. When coal burning occurs sulfur dioxide is emitted in the air. Inhaling sulfur dioxide and very small particles can increase the frequency of breathing diseases and increase the number of attacks on people with asthma as well (50). To obtain zinc, nickel and copper, one must smelt metal sulfide ores. When volcanoes erupt it can add a lot of sulfur to the air in that area. When sulfur is out in the air, it can be “deposited on the earth’s surface in the form of dry deposition”(”Acid Rain and Deposition” par 4).
The Internet article Acid Rain and Deposition says that acid deposition influences the environment in many ways. Acid rain affects aquatic ecosystems by lowering their pH level. Aquatic systems such as streams, lakes and ponds are affected differently. It all depends on how they are set up. If the aquatic ecosystems are laid on bedrock or sediments that have a large amount of calcium or magnesium, they are naturally buffered from the acid deposition. If they lay on neutral or acidic bedrock, they are very sensitive to acid deposition because they do not have the nutrients needed to buffer the acidification (see picture below). Fish have declined in numbers due to acidification. Scientists first thought that the decline in fish was due to the high acidity of the water. Something is acidic if the pH level is 6 or below. In the 1970 s scientists found out that the reason for the decrease was that lakes had a high amount of mercury, aluminum, and cadmium. The metals were coming from the soil around the water. When these metals become soluble, they become toxic. This causes a decline in fish (”Acid Rain and Deposition” par 10).
H+ = Hydrogen So42- = Sulfate
( Acid Rain and Deposition Lake Acidification Figure 1)
According to the Monitoring Acid Rain Youth Program (MARYP) Wet Desert is a term used to describe the clear, blue fishless lakes. Trout, burbot, and smallmouth are just a few of the fish who have disappeared from lakes. When the water is a certain pH level, aluminum can be toxic to fish in two ways. First it is able to reduce the ion exchange through the gills and subsequently causes a salt depletion. Also aluminum precipitates in the gills and interferes with the transport of oxygen and other ions thus the fish suffocates and dies. Secondly, the fish will exude mucus to combat the aluminum in their gills. The gills are clogged with mucus and oxygen and salt transport is ceased. The fish are denied the salts needed in their blood, causing them to be unable to regulate body salts.
MARYP describes that other organisms are also affected by acid rain. It is not unusual for the growth of frogs, toads, and salamanders to stunt.
The Acid rain not only kills off species, but also alters and decreases the food
supply for higher fauna. For example, a decline in benthos (bottom-dwelling
organisms) can lead to a decline in the number of species of flies, mosquitoes,
craneflies, midges, and mayflies.
This means that fish that eat insects cannot get their food. Then birds that eat fish will end up with high amounts of aluminum in their system and their offspring will be unable to survive. Plants can also be affected if phosphates attach to aluminum. This will cause a decrease in the production of plants because phosphate is a limiting nutrient for plants. Since plant food will decrease, populations higher up in the food chain will decrease with it.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency states that harm to people from acid rain is not direct. This means that one could be surrounded by acid rain and wouldn t even know it. Air pollution, which is a cause of acid rain, puts humans at a bigger risk than swimming in an acid lake or walking in clean water. Inhaling the chemicals (sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides) can be damaging to the lungs. These chemicals, which cause acid rain, can also reduce one s eyesight by limiting the distance one can see. These chemicals are put out into the atmosphere by aerosols. The aerosols scatter light and cause the decrease in visibility, and they are the main cause of poor visibility in the eastern United States (United States Environmental Protection Agency).
According Patel, the effect of acid rain on trees is a big problem. The trees most affected are conifers. The needles fall off and they are unable to produce new trees from the seeds. The nutrients that are taken in by the trees are affected by the acid rain and the trees are left without the food they need to survive. The trees are then susceptible to falling down or falling apart due to the weight of snow ( Acid Rain Effects: Forests par 1).
Patel indicates that acid rain can damage certain man-made objects. There are many man-made materials on earth. Limestone and marble being two that are damaged often. Acid dissolves in the stone and the solution evaporates. Crystals are then formed in the stone and they begin to expand and break the stone up into pieces. Thus, the monument falls to the ground ( Acid Rain Effects: Monuments par 1).
Acid rain can have many effects on many different things. Whether it affects forests, humans, monuments, or water bodies it can be harmful. Patel explains that in order to prevent acid rain, one can take a few simple steps. Reducing the use of hair spray can decrease acid rain. Laws have been passed to enforce businesses to reduce acid gases but they are obviously not enforced. The best way to reduce is to use the smallest amount of energy possible. One can turn the lights off in a room each time he/she leaves it, or ride the bus. Any way one can think of saving energy is a good way to reduce acid rain so that our communities can live longer and healthier ( Acid Rain Prevention par 4-8).
Environmental Protection Agency, Effects of Acid Rain on People,
Middleton, N, Atlas of Environmental Issues New York: llex 1989, 50-51.
Monitoring Acid Rain Youth Program, Effects of Acid rain on Aquatic Ecosystems,
Patel, Acid Rain, Internet article from the University of Texas
Tracy Gow and Michael Pidwimy, Acid Rain and Deposition,
, October 17, 1996