Acid rain influences soil chemistry, plant activities, and the acidity of surface waters in general. In this sense, it means acid rain has many implications to the environment. The increase of acid rain is persistently affecting the health of humans and plants, the chemical composition of the soil, and most importantly the survival of aquatic life.
The higher the degree of acidic concentration, the higher the outcomes can be disastrous. Consistent and high levels of acid rain can drastically depreciate the overall plant life activities and aquatic life continuity. Much of the effects depend on the presence of acidic depositions in the atmosphere and the acidity levels in the different forms of precipitation.
Here are the main effects of acid rain in our environments.
- Soil Degradation
Acid rain highly affects soil chemistry and biology. The soil microbes, biological activity, and soil chemical compositions such as the soil pH are usually damaged or altered due to the effects of acid rain. The soil needs to maintain an optimum pH value for biological activities to flourish. So, whenever acid rain seeps into the soil, it alters the optimum pH level that reverses the chemical and biological activities.
Sensitive soil microorganisms that cannot adapt to the changes in pH are thus killed while at the same time enzymes for soil microbes are denatured. High acidity levels can also leach away vital minerals and nutrients such calcium and magnesium. Consequently, the soil loses its quality and composition which incapacitates its ability to support plant life or soil microorganisms.
- Damage to Trees and Vegetation Cover
Acid rain penetrates into the soil and dissolves the most vital nutrients needed by trees. Acid rain also discharges lots of aluminum into the soil around the trees that renders them incapable of taking up water. Thus, the trees and vegetation become highly vulnerable to disease and pest attack. Besides, acid rain has lead to stunted growth and even death of some trees and vegetation.
For instance, the damaging effects of acid rain on soil and elevated levels of acidic dry depositions have ceaselessly damaged high altitude trees and vegetation cover since most of them are encircled by acidic fogs and clouds. In Germany, there is an area called black forest which acquired the name because acid rain made the trees shed all their leaves and are now only black stems and branches.
- Effects on Aquatic Life-Forms
Acid rain has a tendency of altering the pH and aluminum concentrations, in turn, greatly affecting the pH concentration in surface waters and in consequence, fish and other aquatic life-forms are hugely affected. At pH levels below 5, most fish eggs cannot hatch.
Lower pHs can also kill adult fish. Hence, the aquatic biodiversity in rivers, streams, lakes and oceans are significantly affected by acid rain runoff from catchment areas as more and more water become acidic. High aquatic acidity creates intolerable survival conditions, which has reduced or even killed species such as fish, plant life, insects, and aquatic birds among other aquatic life forms.
Some rivers and brooks have also been reduced while some completely eliminated owing to excess acid rain. In Scandinavia, for instance, thousands of lakes and rivers have no more aquatic life-forms in them because they have been receiving high levels of acid rains for many years.
- Health Implications
Acid rain may not have direct effects on human health. However, the dry depositions in the air that form acid rain can negatively impact human health by causing respiratory problems and difficulty in breathing when inhaled. Children and those who already have respiratory health conditions such as asthma are adversely affected.
Headaches and irritations of the nose, throat and eyes are some of the mild implications. Intensified levels of the acidic depositions are linked to risks of developing heart and lung problems such as asthma and bronchitis, and even cancer. When we drink tap water contaminated with acid rain, it can damage our brains.
- Acidification of Surface Waters
Acidification of surface waters is the immediate effect of acid rain. Rivers, brooks, lakes, and oceans have greatly become acidic as a result of acid rain when it precipitates over these surface waters. Due to high acidity levels in these surface waters, fish and other aquatic life forms have been adversely affected.
Some lakes, rivers and streams in China, North America, and Europe have become highly acidic to an extent that they cannot support any life forms, creating what is termed as “dead zones.”
- Corrosive Effects
Acid rain has corrosive effects because it eats into metals and stone. As a result, it has led to weathering of buildings, corrosion of metals, and peeling of paints on surfaces. Building structures made of marble and limestone are mostly affected by acid rain as the acid eats the calcium compounds in the structures. This effect has damaged buildings, gravestones, statues and historic monuments. Metals like steel, bronze, copper, and iron are also corroded by acid rain.