Acidity exists naturally in the environment. For example, lakes and soils in forests are often naturally acidic. Meaning they are more or less sour. When an abundance of acidic elements enters a lake, it can create acidification, making the water more sour than usual. This process occurs naturally as well. However, many human activities release more acidic elements than what is natural. These elements cause an imbalance in nature.
Activities such as agriculture, transport and industries cause more acidification in nature. For example, cars release acidic elements like sulphur and nitrogen. The emissions are bad for the environment.
So, acidification happens when, for example, water gets too many acidic elements. Such as ocean acidification, which is a significant environmental problem today. The pH scale measures acidification. It ranges from 0-14, where seven is neutral. Under seven means the water is acidic, while over seven indicates the opposite: base. In detail, the typical pH level in water ranges between 6.5 and 8.5.
Furthermore, ocean acidification happens because of human emissions of CO2. The reaction of CO2 with water creates carbonic acid, which causes acidified seas. Another reason for the phenomenon is forestry. Increased acidification in the soils of a forest often leads to less natural nutrients in the land. More so, it can cause harm to plants and other organisms as it pushes out the land’s nutrients. For example, this affects root growth and plant development.
Furthermore, the burning of fossil fuels causes acidification on two levels. First, the burning emits sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, two acidic elements. Second, the reaction of sulphur dioxide with air can create something called sulphuric acid. This strong acid spreads across the land through rain, known as acid rain.
Overall, a higher level of acidification in nature disturbs the natural balance. In other words, it disrupts ecosystems. This disturbance can eventually lead to the depletion of different species, which can cause biodiversity loss.
Preventing environmental harm
One can prevent acidification with liming. For example, material that contains calcium can help to neutralise soils. However, increasing the amount of calcium also leads to other imbalances. Therefore, it is better to lower emissions of acidic elements by limiting the use of harmful substances or banning them altogether. An excellent way to counteract the problem is to stop using fossil fuels.
Examples of sources: National Geographic, The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency