|forest damaged by acid rain|
Acid precipitation is rain, snow, or mist which has a pH lower than unpolluted precipitation. Increased levels of acid precipitation have significant effects on food chains and ecosystems.
Precipitation—rain, snow, hail, sleet, or mist—is naturally acidified by carbonic acid (H2CO3). Carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere reacts with water molecules, lowering the pH of precipitation to 5.6. A pH scale is used to measure a solution’s acidity or alkalinity; pH is defined as the negative logarithm of the concentration of hydrogen ions, H+ . A solution with a pH of 7.0 is neutral. A pH lower than 7 is acidic, and a pH greater than 7 is alkaline.
Other acidic substances are also present in the atmosphere, causing "unpolluted" precipitation to have a pH approaching 5.0. Solutions with a pH of 5.0 or less have concentrations of hydroxyl ion, or OH– , and carbonate ion, or CO3– , approaching zero.
Acid precipitation is the name given to rain or snow contaminated with oxides of sulfur (SOx) and oxides of nitrogen (NOx). These chemicals combine with water droplets to form sulfuric acid and nitric acid. SOx is formed by combustion of materials containing sulfur, and NOx is formed by oxidation of molecular nitrogen in the atmosphere during combustion. SOx sometimes arises fromnatural sources such as volcanoes and geyser fields, and NOx is formed by lightning.