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In the past century one of the greatest threats to North Americas aquatic ecosystem has been the widespread acidification of hundreds of thousands of waterways Acid rain has effected plant and animal life within aquatic ecosystems as well as microbiologic activity by affecting the rates of decomposition and the accumulation of organic matter What causes this poisonous rain and what can be done to improve North Americas water quality and prevent future catastrophes To answer these questions we must first examine the cause and formation of acid rain as well as understand ways to decrease or prevent its formation Formation of acid rain Acid deposition more commonly known as acid rain occurs when emissions of sulfur dioxide SO2 and nitrogen oxides NOx react in the atmosphere with water oxygen and oxidants to form acidic compounds This mixture forms a mild solution of sulfuric and nitric acid which then falls to the earth in either wet rain snow sleet or fog or dry gas and particles form Approximately one-half of the atmospheres acidity falls back to earth through dry deposition in the form of particles and gases and are then spread hundreds of miles by winds where they settle on surfaces of buildings cars homes and trees When acid rain falls the dry deposited gases and particles are sometimes washed from buildings trees and other surfaces making the runoff water combine with the acid rain more acidic than the falling acid rain alone This new combination is referred to as acid deposition The runoff water is then transported by strong prevailing winds and public sewer systems into lakes and streams Although some natural sources such as volcanic eruptions fire and lightening contribute to the emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides in the atmosphere more than 90 is the result of human activies such as coal burning smelting of metals such as zinc nickel and copper and the burning of oil coal and
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