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This paper focuses on one of the main pollution related problems that affect the modern day world. The problem under study is acid rain. This form of rainfall is yet another of mankind’s caused problems since it results from production of nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxide and sulfur oxide gases in large amount due to activities such as deforestation and burning fossils to produce electricity. The implications of this form of rainfall on various ecosystems are discussed in this paper with suggestions being made on how to bring the problem to an end.
Acid rain is a form of rainfall which contains a high concentration of hydrogen ions and thus, it is more acidic than normal rainfall. Normally pure rain water is acidic due to the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere which is dissolved when the rain is falling (Luoma, 1984). Pure rainwater has a PH of around 5.6 but as it lowers due to various factors, it becomes more acidic and on reaching a PH of 4, it is referred to as acid rain. In general, any rainfall below a pH of 5.6 is acidic. The main cause of acid rain is the reaction of sulfur dioxide (SO2) with hydrogen peroxide in the clouds; a reaction which results in production of sulfuric acid which lowers the acidity of pure rainwater (Westone, 2012). Nonetheless, an array of other factors discussed in this paper contributes to this form of rainfall. This paper discusses acid rainfall by supporting the claims of the thesis that, acid rain results from both natural and man-made related activities and even though it can be neutralized, it has an array of negative impacts that greatly supersede its positive effects.
The natural resources which humans use to produce electricity and other forms of energy are called energy resources. In many countries, the energy comes from burning fossil fuel such as natural gas and coal which were formed many years ago from dead animals and plants (Boyle, 2004). In the process of obtaining energy from these fossils, pollution emerges through the production of harmful gases as these substances burn (Luoma, 1984). Although sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and carbon dioxide occur in the air naturally, burning the fossils leads to increased volumes of these gases in the atmosphere (Nixon, 1995). These gases can rise very high in the atmosphere and when they do so, they combine and react with oxygen and water leading to formation of acidic pollutants which contribute to acid rain.
Additionally, the acts of human beings cutting down trees increases the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere which also contributes to a significant proportion of acid rain which falls on earth surface (Mohnen, 1988). High combustion in diesel motor vehicles is also a leading cause of nitrogen oxide production and thus can be termed as a contributing man-made factor of acid rain.
On reaching the earth, acid rain has numerous impacts but it is naturally neutralized by alkaline substances on earth. For instance, rocks and other minerals in the soil neutralize the effects of acidic rain since they are highly alkaline and their PH levels are above 7 (Boyle, 2004). However, the degree of neutralization depends on time exposure and the level of reactivity of the minerals and other basic elements in the soil. Therefore, the acidity of massive water bodies depends on this soil factors as well as the acidity of the rain. Lakes and seas mainly get their water sources from streams, rivers, underground water sources and rain water. Thus, rainfall with a PH of 5.0 for instance, can produce a lake or stream with similar acidity if the water flows through a granite surface which is smooth and flows directly to the massive water body. If such water flows on a soil or river base rich in limestone fragments, the acidity may be completely neutralized and have a PH of well above 7 on the PH scale (Luoma, 1984). In some areas, the buffering effect of the soil is poor and this results in a more acidic lake with a PH of less than 5 as is the case with the water bodies in northeastern United States (Pawlick, 1984).
Despite the fact that it can be neutralized, acid rain has major effects on various ecosystems. One of the highly affected ecosystems is aquatic life. As lakes and seas become more acidic due to acid rain, the living things such as fish and plants decrease rapidly.
Some of the animals and plants in lakes and oceans are able to tolerate acidic levels, but others are acid sensitive and might die as the PH level constantly decreases (Ostmann, 1982). Many lakes affected by acidic rains have less or no fish, since at PH of 5 and lower their eggs do not hatch.
Acidic rain deposition in soils mainly affects three important elements namely aluminum, calcium and magnesium (Ostmann, 1982). According to Greg Lawrence, a forest and a terrestrial system specialist, calcium in the soil is very important as it helps in wood formation in trees. If trees do not get enough amount of calcium, they are susceptible to stunted growth which leaves them to a risk of being crumbled down by insects and strong weather such as heavy rainfall (Mohnen, 1988). Studies carried out on spruce trees in the northeast America show that acidic rain has an adverse effect on plants and trees (Boyle, 2004). From 1910 to 1950 there were high levels of calcium in this tree which was well before industrialization took place leading to increased sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide gases associated with acid rain. Acid rain has also resulted in the deterioration of the forest floor in many natural forests. As the rain showers on these forests, the acidic rain drops fall on the leaves and dribs down onto the stems and into the soil (Ostmann, 1982). This reduces the buffering activity of the soil and many indigenous plants may not thrive well in the acidic soil resulting in extinction (Pawlick, 1984). Places such as the northern United States have low buffering activities of the soil such that their PH changes rapidly resulting in acidic soils.
Soils in the forest areas are highly sensitive to the acid rain which may adverse effects on plants growth. The buffering capacity (the ability of the soils to resist a change in PH) of the soils drop due to a lot of acidic rain lowers as more amounts of acid rain is deposited in them.
Therefore, acidic rain causes an imbalance in the ecosystem in general (Mohnen, 1988). Ecology has proven that if one of the elements in the ecosystem is affected the other elements of the ecosystem are affected in one way or another. Thus, since the acid affects the trees and other plants, the predator-prey relationship is also affected since one of the elements of the food chain is not wholly involved (Pawlick 56). The entire ecosystem is highly interdependent and the organisms heavily rely on each other due to factors such as food webs where a species depend on other species for food and food chains (Ostmann, 1982). In addition, acid rain also affects the long range transport of the air pollutants and affects areas far from where the acidic rain actually spurts out from (Hordijk, 2010). A real life example is the transferred effect of acid rain in Canada, which actually originated from the United States and spread to Canada by wind flows (Hordjik, 2010). Another example is the case of the pollutants from china being transported by wind currents from China to India. The pollutants collect over the Indian Ocean and are pushed by the wind currents to central India whereby they are experienced as acid rain (Pawlick, 1984).
Acidic rain also impacts negatively on humans in terms of various health issues such as respiratory problems. Just as clean rain tastes and feels, acidic rain cannot be differentiated as much in comparison to the normal rain (Nixon, 1995). Nonetheless, the constituents of acidic rain such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides and other particulate matter affect and irritate human lungs as they inhale them (Westone, 2012). This mostly affects people with respiratory diseases such as asthma or those whose lungs have already been infected by respiratory diseases before (Mohnen, 1988).
Acid rain also has an adverse effect on man-made materials and various natural features such as stones. The rain ‘’eats away’’ metals and almost everything exposed to it for quite a long time (Hordijk, 2010).
Even though human made features deteriorate with time, acidic rain speeds up the deterioration process. Acidic rain causes rust in metals and leads to deformation in marble statues by wearing them out. This is mainly caused by marble (calcium carbonate) being dissolved by the acids in the rain. Many of the buildings and statues in the world are made of calcium carbonate and limestone which are damaged by acid rain through chemical reactions. A typical example is the historical monument such as the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C which has been worn out due to the rain (Luoma, 1984). From chemistry, there is knowledge that once the pollutant deposits on the stone in the form of acidic rain, it can interact to create an alteration crust, which is usually calcium sulfate. The calcium sulfate is more water more soluble than the stone itself and with subsequent rains the alteration crusts are removed (Pawlick, 1984). Unlike other components of an ecosystem which can recover from the acid deposition, stone structures cannot be recovered.
As much as acidic rain has negative effect, it is important to acknowledge its significance. Acidic rain has been proved to have positive effects to crops through controlled experiments whereby crops such as corn and soybeans have been exposed to acidic rain and have shown positive results such as improved productivity (Boyle, 2004). The control test shows that there is no much negative effect on the growth of such plants even when grown under conditions of ten times the acidity. Research also shows that the nitrate component of the rain and to lesser effect the sulfate component of the rain are of major benefits to the plants due to their nutritional requirements (Luoma, 1984). This helps the farmers save on costs associated with plant growth such as the need for fertilizers needed to ensure maximum crop output. Nonetheless, in general, the harm causes by acid rain generally outdo the few benefits associated with this form of rainfall.
In conclusion, acidic rain negatively impacts trees, plants, lakes, human structures, streams and human health. Human beings have evolved to develop many systems that help them in their lives, but with less or no clue what consequences would follow these inventions. For instance, after research and extensive studies, scientists have come to find out that fossil fuel combustions are a major cause of pollution that leads to the formation of acid rain. The research and studies completed and those ongoing are an important step for future control of acidic rain globally. Many countries have taken the issue seriously and have used information from such research as evidence and channel to formulate laws which proof that change need to be made to control these changes. Various changes have been made in many countries in order to eradicate the problem of acid rain. Examples of newly adopted changes include the use of cleaner fuels, government enforced regulations on pollution, energy efficient and non-polluting products are among the changes (Hordijk, 2010). While there have been enormous improvements in the way the world produces energy, pollution is still rampant and in an extensive state such that it is difficult of the world to go back to a situation whereby there was no acid rain at all. Nonetheless, the world encompasses many ideas and brain power to develop renewable energy resources, but the money to develop these projects all seems to be tied up in the fossil fuels. With strict rule and more strategies to control the operations causing pollution, we will have a better globe and a future with no worry of acid rain.
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