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An Environmental Case Study - Acid Rain: Causes, Effects and Solutions

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Introduction

An Environmental Case Study - Acid Rain: Causes, Effects and Solutions Acid rain is the broad term used to describe rainfall, snow, fog or sleet which has a higher level of acidity than that of natural, unpolluted rain. The acidity of a substance is measured by its pH. The pH of deionised water is pH 7, or neutral. Anything above 7 is classed as being an alkaline or base and anything below pH 7 is acidic. The pH of normal rain is 5.6 due to the reaction of water and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to form a mildly acidic carbonic acid. The pH of acid rain ranges between pH 5-3 with most acidic deposition ranging between pH 5.0-4.3. Acid rain is formed when gases such as sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. These gases are by products of human activity and are released during industrial processes, most notably the burning of fossil fuels to produce electricity. Smaller quantities are released by the burning of fuels for cars, but these emissions have been greatly reduced due to the introduction of three-way catalytic convertors which reduce the nitrogen oxides released in exhaust fumes. By far, the most common cause of acid rain is sulphur dioxide which makes up 70% of acid rain formation with the various oxides of nitrogen being responsible for the remaining 30%. Around 70Tg(S) ...read more.

Middle

Decomposers such as bacteria, fungi, earthworms and other insects break down the dead and decaying leaves and other debris on the forest floor. This in turn releases nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, phosphates and nitrates into the soil. If this process is stopped, as occurs with the change in pH due to the deposition of acid rain then the land becomes sterile and lifeless. Higher acidity levels may also cause other toxic metals to go from the insoluble to the soluble ion forms in the same way as aluminium. These include lead, mercury, zinc, copper, cadmium, chromium, manganese, and vanadium. This combination of toxic metals may also adversely affect the growth of soil bacteria, mosses, algae, fungi, earthworms and other organisms in the soil. Related to the effect which acid rain has on the soil chemistry is the effect which it has on plant life. Many plants are unable to grow in low pH conditions and even those which are able to tolerate slightly acidic soil such as the Spruce may succumb to acid rain damaging leaves/spines, which prevents the trees from photosynthesising. The bark is also affected which leaves the trees more susceptible to the elements. Also, aluminium ions can prevent root growth and stop the uptake of calcium from the soil. ...read more.

Conclusion

This is then removed and either sold as gypsum where the calcium sulphate is high quality or buried in landfill sites. As previously mentioned, the use of catalytic converters in cars since the 1980s has already reduced the emissions of NOx compounds into the atmosphere, however a move to hydrogen and electric powered cars would reduce these emissions further. Also fitting catalytic convertors to older cars would help with the reduction of emissions, especially in developing countries, where the use of older cars is prevalent. To combat the effects of acidic deposition on the soil, especially soil used for crops, lime is added to the ground to combat acidity and raise the pH. The increase in pH encourages the return of soil invertebrates and microorganisms and with the addition of fertilisers gives the chance for vegetation to grow. The addition of lime is also used to repopulate lakes and water courses which have been acidified. Large quantities or hydrated lime, quick lime or soda is added to the body of water and this causes a raise in pH. This method has seen great success, including acidic lakes in Wales where the pH was raided from pH 5 to pH 7. This enabled the repopulation of the lakes with Brown Trout. Aquatic plant life was also successfully introduced which caused many species of invertebrates to repopulate. ...read more.

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