Atmospheric Acid Deposition

Authored by: Gene E. Likens , Thomas J. Butler

Encyclopedia of Natural Resources

Print publication date:  July  2014
Online publication date:  June  2014

Print ISBN: 9781439852583
eBook ISBN: 9781351043847
Adobe ISBN:


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Acid deposition, or more commonly called acid rain, is the wet and dry deposition of acidic substances from the atmosphere, usually derived from the burning of fossil fuels and the gaseous emission of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx). Acid rain (largely sulfuric and nitric acid) was detected on a region-wide basis in northwestern Europe in the late 1960s, and in eastern North America in the early 1970s, and was linked to the decline of fish populations in remote lakes far from pollution sources. Acid deposition also causes acidification in acid-sensitive landscapes where soil waters have poor acid-neutralizing capacity (ANC), or little ability to neutralize acid inputs. Government regulation of SO2 and NOx emissions has reduced acid deposition considerably in Europe and North America, but soils in acid-sensitive regions that have received acid deposition over many decades are now even more sensitive to further deterioration due to loss of base cations and continuing abundance of hydrogen and aluminum ions. Acid deposition has become a growing problem in developing areas, such as China and India, where there have been large increases in fossil fuel use, and limited controls on SO2 and NOx emissions. Further reductions in these emissions will be necessary to protect acid-sensitive areas and reduce other air pollution impacts, such as human health effects (e.g., ozone formation, fine particulate pollutants) related to SO2 and/or NOx emissions.

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