Q:

What causes acid rain?

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Quick Answer

Acid rain is caused by the mixing of moisture in the atmosphere with sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxides, forming sulfuric acid and nitric acid in the precipitation that falls to the earth. In the Northern Hemisphere, the most common source of these chemicals in the atmosphere is air pollution from industry, generation of electricity and automobiles.

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What causes acid rain?
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Volcanoes and forest fires also release oxides into the air that cause acid rain, but these do not match the proportions caused by man-made pollution. Acid rain can cause damage to buildings, vehicles and natural formations. The acids dissolve limestone and other minerals, accelerating natural weathering of stone. The low pH of the rain affects plant growth and pollutes surface and ground water. About.com reports that over half of the forests in Germany and Poland are affected by acid rain.

Acid rain dilutes as it mixes with water. However, it accrues over time as water evaporates from bodies of water in the water cycle. In addition, acid rain causes clay soils to release metals, including aluminum and magnesium, which further lower the pH of the water. Approximately 50,000 lakes in the United States alone have a pH below normal, and several hundred have fallen to pH levels that no longer support life.

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Related Questions

  • Q:

    How does acid precipitation affect ecosystems?

    A:

    The effects of acid rain are most prominent in aquatic environments such as lakes, rivers, creeks and marches. However, acid precipitation is increasingly damaging forest ecosystems through the leeching of soil nutrients and weakening of trees' natural defenses.

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  • Q:

    How does acid rain affect buildings?

    A:

    The Virtual Chembook of Elmhurst College explains that acid rain considerably increases the rate of corrosion on marble, sandstone and limestone buildings. Sulfur dioxide and water forms sulfurous acid, and sulfur trioxide and water creates sulfuric acid, which reacts with limestone in a neutralization reaction. Limestone dissolves and crumbles as calcium sulfate is soluble in water.

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  • Q:

    What caused the hole in the ozone layer?

    A:

    The gaping hole in the ozone layer of the atmosphere over the Antarctic was caused primarily by high concentrations of ozone-depleting chemicals called CFCs. The vast hole in the ozone was discovered by scientists in the 1980s, who upon discovering the dramatic loss in ozone cover, set to work determining a primary cause. They found excessive concentrations of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in the area of concern; CFCs were frequently used as additives in spray cans and refrigerants, but are now banned in most areas of the world.

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  • Q:

    What effect does acid rain have on plants and animals?

    A:

    Acid rain can cause immediate damage to the cells of plants and animals as well as prolonged effects of residual damage in the future. Most directly, living cells require a balanced pH level in order to grow and divide properly. Acid rain can reduce the pH level of a cell, interrupting the typical functioning of mitosis.

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