6 Characteristics of acid rain

Acid rain is a phenomenon that consists of the decrease in the pH of rainwater, i.e. rain droplets become acidic. The causes are polluting gases from industrial activities and vehicles. The consequences of acid rain are the decrease of aquatic fauna, diseases in plants and the destruction of statues and historical and archaeological monuments.

Robert Angus Smith was a scientist who was working on the chemistry of the UK industries when he first used the word acid rain. Smith managed to show that the gases emitted completely changed the chemistry of the rain by making it more acidic.

If you want to know more about what acid rain, its causes and its consequences is, we invite you to continue reading this article where you will learn more about this problem.

What acid rain is

Acid rain is rain that has an acid pH due to the various polluting compounds found in the atmosphere. The acidity value of this type of rain so harmful to inert objects, animals, plants, natural resources such as water or soil, and humans varies from 4.0 to 4.2.

Now that you know what acid rain is, maybe you’re interested in knowing what acid rain consists of.

  • Acid rain consists of precipitation of acidic water from clouds to earth surfaces.
  • For the rain to become acidic, it has to go through a process of chemical reactions in the clouds, involving specific pollutants, water and oxygen.

How acid rain occurs

To know how acid rain is formed we must first know the precursors:

  • Precursors are mainly acidic compounds from contamination. These are elsulfuric acid and nitric acid.
  • Those directly responsible for acid rain are called secondary pollutants (Ac. Sululfic and A. Nitrics), which originate from chemical processes and/or photochemicals of primary pollutants.
  • Primary pollutants in acid rain are sulphur oxides and nitrogen oxides.

Now that we know what contaminants are involved in the process, we need to know why acid rain occurs and how it happens:

  • Primary pollutants from smoke and gases emitted from cars and industry are first produced.
  • These contaminants interact with the water vapours present in the clouds of the atmosphere, and the sulfuric and nitric acids form.
  • Acid rain occurs due to the interaction of sulfuric acid, nitric acid and nitrogen oxides with water vapor.
  • Finally, when the precipitation of the water occurs, the droplets have a more acidic pH producing the famous acid rain.

Characteristics of acid rain

Acid rain refers to rainfall or any form of precipitation that has an unusually high level of acidity. Here are some key characteristics of acid rain:

  1. Acidic pH: Acid rain is characterized by its low pH level, typically below the normal range of 5.6. Normal rainfall has a pH of around 5.6, which is slightly acidic due to the presence of naturally occurring carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Acid rain, however, has a pH level below this threshold, often ranging from 4 to 3 or even lower in extreme cases.
  2. Causes: Acid rain is primarily caused by emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) into the atmosphere. These pollutants are released from various human activities, including burning fossil fuels such as coal and oil, industrial processes, and transportation. Once released into the air, these pollutants react with water, oxygen, and other substances to form sulfuric acid and nitric acid, which then fall back to the Earth as acid rain.
  3. Environmental Impact: Acid rain can have detrimental effects on the environment. It can acidify bodies of water such as lakes, rivers, and streams, leading to a decrease in the pH levels of these water bodies. This acidity can harm aquatic life, including fish, amphibians, and other organisms that are sensitive to changes in pH. Acid rain can also damage forests by leaching essential nutrients from the soil and affecting plant health.
  4. Effects on Materials: Acid rain can corrode and deteriorate various materials, including buildings, statues, bridges, and vehicles. The acidic components of the rain can react with the surfaces of these structures, leading to erosion, discoloration, and weakening of the materials over time.
  5. Transboundary Impact: Acid rain can be transported over long distances by wind patterns. This means that the pollutants emitted in one location can affect ecosystems and human populations in distant regions. Transboundary movement of acid rain can make it a global environmental issue, requiring international cooperation and efforts to reduce emissions.
  6. Mitigation and Prevention: Efforts to reduce acid rain have been made through the implementation of regulations and technologies aimed at reducing sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions. These include the use of cleaner fuels, installation of pollution control devices in industries and power plants, and international agreements to limit emissions.

In summary, acid rain is characterized by its low pH level and is primarily caused by emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. It has negative impacts on the environment, aquatic life, forests, and materials. Acid rain can be transported over long distances and requires mitigation and prevention efforts to reduce emissions and protect ecosystems.

Causes of acid rain

  • The main cause is human-generated air pollutionpor el ser humano, such as industrial activities and the fleet.
  • Thermal plants and industrial processes emit sulphur, nitrogen and chlorine gases heading into the atmosphere.
  • The gases emitted from volcanoes contribute to the formation of acid rain.
  • During the combustion of fossil fuels, gases such as sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide are released, which contribute to the formation of sulphuric acids and nitric acids.

It is important to know what causes acid rain, since from that it can generate proposals to solve this problem.

Consequences of acid rain

  • Rivers and lakes: the effects of rain on these bodies of water generate the decrease of pH, causing their acidity and causing the death of different species of fish. A serious consequence of acid rain is the decrease in the amount of phytoplankton, as this group of animals is essential in the aquatic food chain.
  • Plants: produces a slowing growth due to the decrease in nutrients, which favors the attack of pests and diseases. It also causes a deterioration in the bark, the loss of color in the leaves and the gradual defoliation.
  • Human beings: it only indirectly affects the precursors of acid rain. It causes or worsens cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.
  • Constructions: affects the culture of the area, since the acids of the raindrops corrode and destroy buildings, statues, historical monuments, archaeological monuments, etc.

Solutions for acid rain

  • The creation of laws to limit the number of pollutants in power plants.
  • Install equipment to wash the polluting gases that come out of the chimneys of industries or power plants.
  • Reduce the generation of electricity that uses fossil fuels, which emits quite a few polluting gases and replace it with renewable energy sources, such as solar or wind energy.
  • Automakers should use a catalytic converter in their cars, as this technology reduces levels of nitrogen oxides and other gases emitted by new vehicles.
  • Disseminating the issue and the problem is a fundamental solution for more people to become aware of this phenomenon that affects, among others, the biological diversity of our planet.

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