Every life-cycle begins with a dependency on water, without it our planet would dwindle into a lifeless orbiting rock. Each and every creature that dwells upon the earth is utterly reliant to the natural cycle of precipitation that nurtures and promotes growth. The real question should be; what happens when our life-cycle becomes tainted by the likes of pollution-based acid rain.
Before we can discuss the ramifications of pollution-based acid rain, we have understand what acid rain is!
What is Acid Rain?
With all the media hype about global warming, depleting ozone, it’s extremely hard to sort through all the doom and gloom. We all know when the sky becomes dark and gloomy there is likely to be a rainfall shortly after, but what is it that can turn a raindrop into something corrosive as acid. Most of us make the mistake of thinking acid is that corrosive liquid found within the confines of a car battery, but actually there is many other forms of acid like acid rain.
Clean rainwater without any pollutants at all still has a natural acidic value that carries a pH level around 5.6. What is pH? This is the unit of measurement for acidity or alkalinity of any solution, which at a level of 7 it is considered to be completely neutral. So, if rain without any conditioning has a pH level of 5.6, does this make it acid rain? The answer is no, since many natural solutions can have mild acidity. A perfect example of a natural solution with a higher pH level would be a common variety of table vinegar, which carries a value around 2.4, but if you watered your plants with vinegar you’d be writing it a death sentence for sure!
Pollution contaminated acid rain is caused by the introduction of increased levels of sulfur and nitrogen compounds within the atmosphere. As these levels increase, so does the total alkalinity of the precipitation that naturally occurs. Major contributors to acid rain stem from coal operated hydro plants, manufacturing plants, commercial and non-commercial transportation emissions and various other emissive products on the market today. Many highly industrialized areas like in Asia have shown an extreme example of high alkalinity ranges, hitting significantly detrimental levels of around pH 3.0 or lower.
Different forms of acid precipitation:
Since the term acid rain is commonly associated with raindrop that fall from above, it is common we forget about acid precipitation that comes in many forms.
This form of acid precipitation comes mainly in the form of rain, but it is also found in snow, fog, and even morning dew. The majority of wet deposition is generated as pollution is removed from the atmosphere and distributed through various precipitation to the Earth’s surface.
Many areas are predisposed to drier conditions, but despite the lack of precipitation they still can experience the effects of acid. The harmful elements that contribute to wet deposition, are carried in the air and are incorporated into dust or smoke, eventually ending up on the ground. Since dry deposition accounts for 20-65% of the total acid deposition, it can still be very detrimental to plants and other life forms it come into contact with.
What’s so bad about pollution-based acid rain?
Destruction and death! Yes, this response may seem a bit dramatic and zealous to make, but prolonged exposure leads to exactly this! Most ecosystems become disrupted immediately after prolonged exposure to higher contents of acid rain. Entire species of insects and plant life can be erased, and the effects of pollution-based acid precipitation have even been linked to the destruction of entire forests.
Lakes are especially prone to the effects caused by acid rain, since they act like a collector basin. The water soon becomes diluted with the increasing alkalinity, which can be due to both wet and dry deposition. When the total water pH reaches 4.5 or lower, most insects and frogs begin to die. Soon after fish and other aquatic life will follow suit if immediate action is not taken, which soon after the lake could be deemed a “dead lake”.
Soil contains natural nutrients and minerals that aid in supporting life and growth, acid rain permeates plant life clinging to both surface and soil. The higher alkalinity disturbs the natural pH balance, which in turn sours the food source. The disruption of the balance gradually begins to span from insect and plants and eventually total devastation to the entire ecosystem.
How does pollution-based acid rain affect me?
Yes a forest in another part of the world might not exactly change our lives, but acid rain leaves a few more victims in its wake. In the industry of agriculture acid rain can be both costly and dangerous. Like forests and other ecosystems soil must remain within a certain pH level. As the level increases to below 6.0 the crop can begin to die. By the time soil pH levels reach a median of below 4.0 an entire crop can be destroyed. Most farmers have already had to seek alternative ways to maintain pH levels, using such elements like limestone to restore a somewhat natural balance. Although this method does resolve some minor pH adjustments, it still impacts farmers with additional costs.
The next problem faced by prolonged exposure to acid rain is building and structural damage. This issue impacts us both economically and historically, since a majority of our history is contained within the building and structures around us. Entire statues have been marred beyond recognition, and aged materials begin to flake apart. Material like gypsum, limestone, marble, sandstone, granite, and even concrete over time show mild to major deterioration after prolonged exposure to the harmful effects of acid rain.
Although humans have shown little to no negative side effects to exposure of pollution-based acid rain, there are still ongoing studies that suggest acid rain could be contributing factors in cases of various cancers or even premature death.
The result of acid rain is not pretty and it has no positive ramifications if this trend continues. Trees, plants, lakes and all other life are at risk. Our beautiful historical buildings will soon be dust, crumbling under the dark cloud of acid rain. So why aren’t we doing something about this?
Actually despite the growing concern there has been a great deal of movement to decrease the effects of pollution. Some argue it is too little too late, but manufacturers and hydro production are all becoming under fire to discover cleaner practices. Out generation has already seen a large portion of hybrid vehicles, and alternative fuels, but there is still much to accomplish before we can eliminate the threat. Simple choices like riding a bike or taking the bus instead of driving are such small steps, but if the masses were to begin making environmental choices we might stand a chance against pollution. Our environment is what sustains all life, and acid rain is just one of the many troubles we are facing today unless something is done soon!