Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Acid rain's effect on plants and wildlife

Acid rain is a term used to describe a condition where nitric and sulfuric acids are brought to earth, generally through some form of precipitation. Once these chemicals reach earth, they can have an effect on plant life. While sulfur dioxides and nitrogen oxides have always been naturally added to the atmosphere from volcanic eruptions, or produced as a by-product of decaying plant matter, they are also produced by burning fossil fuels. When these gases are released into the atmosphere, they are either returned to earth through precipitation, or in dry areas, deposited on the ground and later transported through run off.

Acid rain, produced naturally, has had an effect on plant life, and even structures made from certain materials for centuries, however, there is an indication that man made pollution may be accelerating the condition.

Over the past several decades, scientists have become more and more aware of the effects of acid rain and how it impacts the life and health of plant life on earth. In many areas and under certain conditions, it will cause nutrient depletion, resulting in stunted plant growth and weaker specimens. Combined with other adverse conditions, it can result in the death of large areas of vegetation.

The chemicals in acid rain, once they reach earth and are incorporated into the soil, absorb the naturally occurring vital nutrients needed for plant health and growth. However, how much this will effect any given area depends a great deal on the soil composition. Soils that are thin, deplete more easily than more buffered soils, allowing acid rain to have more impact. Altitude is also a factor. Forests in higher altitudes suffer not only from acid rain and thinner soil, but from the fact that they reside in areas where they may be surrounded by acidic fog and clouds.

Even if the plant or tree is not destroyed outright by a depletion in nutrients, it does weaken the plant, leaving them susceptible to disease and periods of extreme weather. In this condition, a drought, extremely stressful winter, or disease may be fatal. Food crops such as corn, wheat, vegetables and fruits are generally not as affected, since the process of farming itself, which always includes fertilizers that replenish the soil, counteracts the depleting effect of the acid rain.

While natural causes of acid rain cannot be controlled, it is hoped that in the future, improvements and restrictions on exhaust emissions and industrial pollution will help control and limit this problem.

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