These substances dissolve in falling rain making it more acidic than normal with pH range between 5.6 -3.5. In some case, it's pH gets lowered to the extent of 2. This leads to acid rain. The term acid rain is used here to describe all types of precipitation, namely, rain, snow, fog and dew more acidic than normal.
Chemistry of acid rain
In the natural processes of volcanic eruptions, forest fires and bacterial decomposition of organic oxides of sulphur and nitrogen, production and reductions of gases naturally tend to an equilibrium. Power plants, smelting plants, industrial plants, burning of coal and automobile exhausts, release additional sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and acidic soot, causing pollution. Sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide interact with water vapours in presence of sunlight to form sulphuric acid and nitric acid mist.
The formed sulphuric acid and nitric acid remain as vapour at high temperatures. These begin to condense as the temperature falls and mix with rain or snow, on the way down to the Earth and make rain sufficiently acidic.
Harmful effects of acid rain
SOx, NOx mixed with water as acid rain causes plant, animal and material damage. Some of the significant ill effects of acid rain are:
Damage to animals
Acid rain chemically strips waterways of necessary nutrients and lowers the pH to levels where plants and animals cannot live. Most of the aquatic animals cannot survive when the pH is less than 4. Some species of fish, such as salmon, die even when the pH is less than 5.5. Certain species of algae and zooplankton are eliminated at pH less than 6. A reduction in the zooplankton and bottom fauna ultimately affects the food availability for the fish population. The problem is most severe downwind of industrial areas where fishing and tourism are major sources of income such as in Norway and Sweden.
Damage to plants
Acidic water is dangerous to plants. Sulphuric and nitric acid rain washes nutrients out of the soil, damages the bark and leaves of trees and harms the fine root hairs of many plants which are needed to absorb water. Leaf pigments are decolorized because acid affects green pigment (chlorophyll) of plants. Agricultural productivity is also decreased. Several non-woody plants, such as barley, cotton and fruit trees like apple, pear, etc., are severely affected by acid rain. Since the acid concentration increases near the base of clouds by density, high altitude trees and vegetation may be exposed to pH levels as low as 3. Unique areas such as the Black Forest in Germany and sugar maples in Vermont (USA) are particularly threatened.
Metallic surfaces exposed to acid rain are easily corroded. Textile fabrics, paper and leather products lose their material strength or disintegrate by acid rain.