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Acid rain, also known as acid deposition, is a term used to describe any type of precipitation with high amounts of sulfuric, carbonic, and nitric acids. Acid rain doesn’t necessarily have to be in liquid form. The precipitation can fall to earth in the form of snow, dry materials, and even microparticles.

how does acid rain form


Acid rain is formed through a complex chemical process that occurs naturally. The process involves the reaction between water and other compounds like nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide.

Acid Rain Chemistry

  • The formation of acid rain starts with the emission of nitrogen and sulfur particles into the atmosphere. These emissions can occur naturally through volcanic eruptions and lightning strikes.
  • However, most of the emissions are man-made as they occur when fossil fuels and other substances are burnt in power plants.
  • The compounds from these emissions readily dissolve in rainwater in the atmosphere. When sulfur dioxide dissolves in rainwater, it forms sulfurous acid.
  • Both nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide undergo oxidation before dissolving in water.
  • Once the acidic solutions are formed, they can be blown over a wide area by winds. After acid rain falls to earth, it contaminates water systems and the soil.

What is the pH of Acid Rain?

Clean rainwater has a pH value that ranges between 5.0 and 5.5.

  • This makes it somewhat acidic but not acidic enough to cause harm to the environment.
  • Acid rain, on the other hand, has a pH value ranging between 4.0 and 4.4.


This refers to the level of acidity of acid rain. Acid rain potency can only be determined by measuring the pH value of collected rainwater samples.

  • A pH scale can indicate how basic or acidic the precipitation is. pH scales have values ranging from 0 to 14.
  • Lower values on the scale indicate the rainwater has a high level of acidity. Higher values indicate the water is less acidic.


Acidic precipitation can fall to the ground in different forms depending on the current climatic condition.

Wet deposition

  • As the name suggests, wet depositions occur when sulfuric and nitric acids fall to the surface of the earth in the form of snow, rain, sleet, or any other form of precipitation.

Dry deposition

  • Acid deposition can also occur when dust particles and gas molecules have high acidic levels. This type of deposition does not require any form of precipitation.
  • Both forms of acid deposition can affect the environment in various ways. Acidic particles can settle on the surface of buildings, cars, and other infrastructure, thus causing corrosion.
  • Wet depositions may affect plants and other organisms directly or indirectly.
acid deposition


Acid rain can affect the ecosystem, animals, plants, and other components in the environment. The effects can be short-term or long-term depending on the level of acidity of the precipitation.

Effects of Acid Rain on the Environment

When acid rain falls to the ground, it can flow into rivers, streams, and lakes as runoff. This will lead to the pollution of the water systems.

  • Acid rain makes water systems toxic to fish, amphibians, and other aquatic animals.
  • Additionally, acid rain affects how aquatic animals interact with their environment.
  • In some cases, acid rain has caused the mass destruction of trees and forest cover in different parts of the world.

Effects of Acid Rain on Plants

  • Acid rain can cause damage to plant leaves and roots, thereby altering normal biological processes in plants.
  • It can also damage the thick waxy cuticle protecting the leaves. This will leave the leaves exposed to infections and destructive insects.
  • Acid rain causes certain minerals and nutrients to leach faster through the soil. This prevents plants from getting the food that they need to grow.
  • Without key nutrients like calcium and magnesium, plants are more likely to die. 
  • Acid rain also causes the aluminum to leach through the soil, causing aluminum toxicity.
  • Toxic soils may slow down the rate of absorption in plants, resulting in stunted growth and other complications. 
  • Seeds can fail to germinate in soils contaminated by acid rain.

Effects of Acid Rain on Humans

Acid rain has no direct effect on humans, but the effects that it has on the environment can affect us.

  • It can cause metals such as aluminum, copper, mercury, and lead to dissolving into our water systems. This will make the water toxic, thereby causing serious health complications.
  • Acid rain can also corrode and damage architectural structures, resulting in costly repairs.
  • Breathing in microscopic acidic precipitations can cause respiratory problems like pneumonia, asthma, bronchitis, etc.
  • When acid rain degrades the soil, people find it difficult to produce food and other farm products.
effects of acid rain


We can only prevent acid rain by curbing the emission of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and other pollutants. This will not help in conserving the environment but will also protect us from health complications.

Design Cleaner Power Plants

-The best way to go about this is by using wind or solar energy. Wind turbines can generate electricity without emitting harmful gasses into the atmosphere.

-This will greatly lower the number of nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere.

Restrict the use of Fossil Fuels

-When fossil fuels such as coal are burnt, they produce particulates like sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. The presence of these compounds in the atmosphere can cause the formation of acid rain.


Acid rain should be given the same attention that people give other environmental problems. It affects the ecosystem as it pollutes water systems and also poisons aquatic animals. Additionally, acid rain can damage plants, buildings, cars, and other structures. It also puts our health at risk since it predisposes us to respiratory complications. 

The best way to prevent acid rain from forming is by curbing the emission of harmful gasses. People should resort to renewable sources of energy that won’t pollute the environment.

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