Acid Rain

Acid Rain

This post is not about a new novel, movie, game, or action figure. It is about those water droplets that fall from the sky, commonly known as rain. The industrial revolution (1760 – 1840) brought dramatic improvements for the quality of life for many people, but it also precipitated new manmade pollutants into the atmosphere. As a byproduct of the burning of fossil fuels, gases such as sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides react with droplets of water in the clouds to form sulphuric and nitric acids. The rain from these clouds falls as a very weak acid which is known as acid rain. In Manchester, England, Robert Angus Smith first showed the relationship between atmospheric pollution and acid rain. Although discovered in 1852, he it wasn’t until 1872 that he coined the term, “acid rain.”

Studies concerning acid rain effects on plants and trees date back to 1963 which revealed altered compositions of water vapors rising in the atmosphere. In recent studies made by scientists from the University of Vermont, wood cores showed rings forum in more that a hundred trees of varying species began a growth decline in the 1950’s. One of the most significant result of acid rain effects in the United States are the continuing decline of red spruce trees found in Adirondack Mountains, New York and the Green Mountains of Vermont. Those in the White Mountains of New Hampshire have already died. The University of Vermont study reported starling evidence of tree damage. Conifers are most affected because the needles are bathed in acid droplets all year. Other trees drop their leaves. Measurements of the total biomass in the balsam fir has declined 20% from 1965 to 1983. The red spruce declined 73% in the same time period. Population of lower mountain sugar maples and beech trees dropped 25%. For trees subjected to acid rain falls, the acid deposits strip the leaves and needles of their calcium contents. Indirect effects of acid rainfall on fertile soil also cause plants to lose their foliage, resulting in plants and trees withering and dying.

The Good News

Both Europe and the United States adopted clean air act amendments in the 1070’s. Those actions required filters in factories and reduced sulpher and nitrogen emission levels on vehicles. New research shows that human pollution of the atmosphere with acid is now almost back to the level that it was before the major industrialization in the 1930’s. These results are from studies of the Greenland ice sheet by spearheaded by Helle Astrid Kjaer of the Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen.

Although damage from the effects of acid rain will continue to plague the planet for decades to come, it is a hopeful sign. It is one area of human assault on the environment where mitigation has begun.

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