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How can acid rain cause erosion?

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Quick Answer

Acid rain causes erosion by chemically reacting with certain minerals in rock, causing it to dissolve in the water and otherwise escape the structures in which it is bonded. This is a particularly a problem with limestone and rocks derived from it, such as marble. The basic constituent of limestone is calcium carbonate, which is very vulnerable to acidic compounds.

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Acid rain is created when industrial and other modern processes release sulfur compounds into the atmosphere. These react with water, creating sulfuric acid, the major active constituent of acid rain. This dissolved acid is carried with rain onto limestone or marble, and the calcium carbonate in the rock reacts with it. This reaction generates water, carbon dioxide, calcium ions and sulfate ions. All these products are then carried away with the flowing rainwater. This both erodes natural and man-made structures made of limestone, and depletes soil of important calcium compounds.

Acid rain also harms the environment in other ways. Acid rain accumulates in bodies of water, such as lakes, making them more acidic. This can make lakes so acidic they no longer support most fish and other types of organisms. In addition, the dissolution of calcium and other compounds in soil can release toxic aluminum and other ions into the environment.

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  • Q:

    What is chemical erosion?

    A:

    Chemical erosion occurs when water transports dissolved minerals away from their source rocks. It follows chemical weathering, which results from the chemical alteration of rock by water. Chemical erosion is most common with limestone; slightly acidic rainwater dissolves calcium carbonate in the rock and redeposits it, sometimes far away, as in stalagmites and stalactites. Through oxidation, chemical erosion also occurs to some degree with unstable igneous minerals and iron-rich rocks.

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    How do waves cause erosion?

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    Waves cause erosion by moving sand and debris during storms and other events, as they break higher than normal on the beach, pulling sand back into the water with them. Human interventions and major weather events such as tropical storms and hurricanes erode beaches in this way.

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  • Q:

    What effect does acid rain have on the environment?

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    Acid rain has many environmental side effects, but its impact is largely seen on water sources and aquatic environment, such as lakes, wetlands and streams, explains National Geographic. Acid rain reduces the alkalinity, the capacity of water to neutralize acid, and thus increases the acidity of the water, leading to a weaker ecosystem. Acidic water is also toxic to fish, clams, crayfish and other aquatic animals.

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  • Q:

    Why is acid rain a problem?

    A:

    Acid rain contaminates water and soil, killing microbes, insects, fish, and other aquatic wildlife and vegetation. It corrodes stone and metal, and it damages automotive paint. Although contact with acid rain is not directly harmful to people, it can indirectly cause health problems.

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