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Precipitation - Acid Rain

acidic emitted sulfur acidity

Acid rain is a phenomenon that occurs when acidic pollutants are incorporated into precipitation. It has been observed extensively in the eastern United States and northern Europe. Sulfur dioxide, a gas emitted by power plants and other industries, can be converted to acidic sulfate compounds within cloud droplets. In the atmosphere, it can also be directly converted to acidic particles, which can subsequently act as CCN or be collected by falling raindrops. About 70 megatons of sulfur is emitted as a result of human activity each year across the planet. (This is comparable to the amount emitted naturally.) Also, nitrogen oxides are emitted by motor vehicles, converted to nitric acid vapor, and incorporated into clouds in the atmosphere.

Acidity is measured in terms of pH, the negative logarithm of the hydrogen ion concentration; the lower the pH, the greater the acidity. Water exposed to atmospheric carbon dioxide is naturally slightly acidic, with a pH of about 5.6. The pH of rainwater in remote areas may be as low as about 5.0 due to the presence of natural sulfate compounds in the atmosphere. Additional sulfur and nitrogen containing acids introduced by anthropogenic (human-induced) activity can increase rainwater acidity to levels that are damaging to aquatic life. Recent reductions in emissions of sulfur dioxide in the United Kingdom have resulted in partial recovery of some affected lakes.


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