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Acid rain as the name suggests is rain that is acidic, the term is
used to describe rain with a pH below 5, before the industrial
revolution rain had a typical pH of 5 to 6 this was before the
increase in air pollution brought about by the burning of fossil
fuels, that are burned in factories, vehicles and power stations.
The term “acid rain” was first used over a hundred years ago by the
British chemist Robert Angus Smith. When he realized that the smoke
from human activity could change the acidity of precipitation, despite
this it was not until the 1950’s that concern was raised about the
environmental effect and even then this situation was allowed to
continue to rise until it reached crisis proportions in the late
The only forms of air pollution were caused by geological events for
example volcano eruptions, lightning and bacterial action in soils
The increase of certain gasses in the air, sulphur dioxide, carbon
dioxide, methane, halocarbons and nitrogen oxides being the main ones,
leads to them being absorbed into it the water vapour that is present
in the atmosphere at high altitudes this reaction is increased by the
energy from sun light, As the sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides
react with the water vapour, oxygen and other oxidants a mild solution
of sulphuric acid and nitric acid are formed. This weak acid vapour
can now precipitate into clouds and fall as acid rain, acid snow and
even acidic fog.
Global warming is another problem that
Chemistry of acid rain
.rainwater is slightly acidic.
Carbon dioxide can dissolve in water, some of which forms carbonic
acid. Carbonic acid releases H+ making the water slightly acidic.
.Burning sulphur releases SO2.
Sulphur in coal released as sulphur dioxide.
.sulphur dioxide acidifies water slightly.
Sulphur dioxide can dissolve in water, some of which forms sulphurous
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.oxidation of sulphur dioxide results in a stronger acid.
Oxidation produces sulphur trioxide.
Sulphur trioxide dissolves in water, forming sulphur acid.
Sulphur acid dissociates into H2 and hydrogen sulphur ion, making
Causes of Acid rain
It is mainly since the industrial revolution that the massive increase
in air pollution has resulted in increases in acid rain; this is
largely due sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides in that are found in
pollution from industry, coal and oil fired power stations and cars.
The effect of smelting metal ore and the increase of airline travel
giving out large amounts of carbon dioxide.
The burning of all fossil fuels will result in combustion gasses and
other by products such as soot and ash, if these gasses are not
treated but simply vented out into the air, (this is a much cheaper
option and therefore the one that most power stations and industry
use) they will give rise to acid rain because of there high sulphur
dioxide and nitrogen oxides content present in them.
The gasses will rise and form into it the acid rain clouds, but the
problem will this type of pollution that it may fall as acid rain
hundreds or even thousands of kilometres away carried on wind spread
currents and jet streams in the high atmosphere. As an example the
vast amount of acid rain that falls in Sweden and other northern
European countries is caused by pollution created in the UK by heavy
industry and fossil fuel burning power stations
ACID RAIN FORMATION & TRANSPORT
There are also natural causes of acid rain such as volcano eruptions,
lightning and bacterial action in soils and vegetation, agricultural
activity has also had a large effect on the level of green house gas
in the environment i.e. methane from sheep and cattle.
Volcanoes and sea spray are typical natural sources of SO2. Lightning
is the most common natural source of NOx. Contributions from natural
sources are generally small compared to those from human activity.
Effects of Acid Rain
The main effect that acid rain has on humans
Is increasing breathing problems sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxides
that are responsible for acid rain increase problems such as asthma
and coughs. They can also cause headaches irritation (swelling and
redness) of the eyes, nose and throat.
Acid rain also causes millions of pounds worth of damage to buildings
and structure to the country each year. The damage the acid rain as on
the structures depends mainly on the acidity of the rain, (the more
acidic the greater the damage is caused). Acid rain wears rocks down
gradually over long periods of time, this can be devastating, causing
bridges to collapse or become so unstable they can not been used
safely. Acid rain also eats away a statues and houses over a long
period of time.
This effect is mainly destructive to the limestone content of the
building, bridge etc. but another effect is the corrosion of metals in
Acid rain has had a devastating effect on the environment, because it
only takes a small increase in the pH of rain water to harm plants and
animals that live near areas such as rivers and lakes, This acidic
rain can damage plants and trees in several ways, in high
concentrations the leaves an the trees and plants are destroyed by the
rain simply falling on them, this prolonged defoliation will starve
the tree of food and kill it.
The rain will also fall onto the soil washing out ions such as
magnesium and calcium this depletion of minerals that are available to
the plants and tree will also kill them. As the plants and trees that
are most susceptible to acid rain are killed off they leave the
remaining ones vulnerable because of soil erosion that is caused by
the destruction of foliage.
Animals such as birds and fish that live on or in the rivers and lakes
are killed as the water becomes more acidic and toxic metals such as
aluminium and mercury are washed out of the chemical compounds in the
soils and into the river and lake water.
An example of this can be found in Sweden where almost 10,000 lakes
are contaminated with levels of mercury that are so high that people
are advised not to eat any fish that are caught in them.
Impact of global warming
Global warming is another problem that may be attributed to pollution,
the green house gasses as they are called (carbon dioxide, methane,
CFC, s) form a layer in the atmosphere, the sun radiates short wave
radiation that passed through them and heats the surface of the earth,
as the surface of the earth heats up it radiates long wave
radiation back up into the atmosphere, this
type of heat radiation is absorbed by the layer or greenhouse gas and
some is radiated back down giving the green house effect.
The Green House Effect
This process as been important for life on earth, however now the
increase of these gasses due to pollution has lead to the layer
becoming larger and stopping more of the heat energy escaping into
space, this causes the earth to slowly become warmer.
The effect of this rise in temperature would result in the melting of
large areas of pack ice around to Artic and Antarctic and the retreat
of the polar glaciers, this will result in massive amounts of water
being released into the oceans and result in rise is sea levels that
will flood large amounts of low lying land including many capital
city’s of the world.
At the present 46 million people live in areas at risk of flooding due
to storm surges. Scientists estimate that a 50cm rise in sea levels
would increase this number to 92 million and a one-metre rise would
put 118 million lives in peril. This figure was based on a current
population density and present level of sea defence measures.
The would also put peoples lively-hoods in danger, with crops being
covered by the high level of water rising, especially in poorer
country’s. Not only this, but there would be a greater risk of disease
like malaria, dengue and yellow fever. If the temperature raises the
number of people at risk but also rise dramatically with the risk of
malaria having a greater advantage. Air pollution and exposure to
greater extremes in temperature could lead to greater frequency of
asthma and respiratory diseases.
Deserts are likely to become more extreme and result in decreased soil
erosion. Mountains glaciers could retreat and inland wetlands would be
affected by global warming with resultant changes in habitat for the
There is always an alterative for this, we as human beings could start
to counteract the effects of global warming just by being conscious of
our actions. We could reduce the amount of energy consumption by
making fewer journeys and using better insulation in our homes. This
would lessen the need to burn coal and oils, and lead to reduced
emissions of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide.
Environmental groups like Greenpeace and friends of the earth would
like to see a switch to renewable and clean sources of energy such as
solar, wind and hydroelectric power.
THE GREENHOUSE EFFECT
Global warming is happening however it is not possible to conclude
that it is due to pollution, some people believe that it is part of a
cycle the earth goes through every tens of thousands of years.
The carbon found in fossil fuels like coal was stored in vegetation in
the vast prehistoric forests over millions of years, the carbon in oil
was formed in a similar way but from sea creatures under the oceans
again over millions of years. This carbon store that has taken
millions to form is now being burned as fuel and the carbon it
converted into energy and carbon dioxide. This results in massive
amounts of new greenhouse gasses being formed faster then the earth’s
environment can reduce them by photosynthesis in plants and trees etc.
My conclusion is that there must be an immediate reduction in the
emission greenhouse gasses, gasses that form acid rain and CFC’s. The
best approach is to reduce the gasses by the conservation of energy
but where this is not practical there are many alternatives, for
example fitting a catalytic converter to a car will reduce its
nitrogen oxide emissions by up to 90% (this will unfortunately also
increase the carbon dioxide)
Sulphur dioxide may be reduced from power station etc. by adding
chemicals to it during combustion, (limestone) it can be further
reduced by treating the combustion gasses with a spray mixture of
water and limestone, this does form a saleable by product (gypsum),
used in plaster and other building materials.
It is also important to use new technologies that are more energy
efficient these include compact fluorescent lamps that can reduce
energy consumption by up to 75% compared with traditional incandescent
lamps, electrical powered cars, and high levels of thermal insulation
in buildings, combined with the increase in renewable energy from
wind, wave and solar power. This will reduce the emissions of carbon
dioxide, the greenhouse gas most responsible for global warming.
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