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What is Acid Rain?

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Additional Resources
  • Clean Air Status and Trends Network (CASTNET) – CASTNET provides atmospheric data on the dry deposition component of total acid deposition, ground-level ozone and other forms of atmospheric pollution.
  • National Atmospheric Deposition Program (NADP) – NADP is a network of over 100 federal, state and local government agencies, and private sector entities that collect data on acid deposition, as well as mercury deposition.
  • EPA Clean Air Markets Data and Maps – Provides access to a variety of data associated with emissions trading programs, including trends in emissions and heat input, environmental assessment maps, data sets and reports on acid deposition, facility attributes and contacts, and other file downloads

"Acid rain" is a broad term referring to a mixture of wet and dry deposition (deposited material) from the atmosphere containing higher than normal amounts of nitric and sulfuric acids. The precursors, or chemical forerunners, of acid rain formation result from both natural sources, such as volcanoes and decaying vegetation, and man-made sources, primarily emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2 ) and nitrogen

oxides (NOx ) resulting from fossil fuel combustion. In the United States, roughly 2/3 of all SO2 and 1/4 of all NOx come from electric power generation that relies on burning fossil fuels, like coal. Acid rain occurs when these gases react in the atmosphere with water, oxygen, and other chemicals to form various acidic compounds. The result is a mild solution of sulfuric acid and nitric acid. When sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides are released from power plants and other sources, prevailing winds blow these compounds across state and national borders, sometimes over hundreds of miles.

Wet Deposition

Dry Deposition

In areas where the weather is dry, the acid chemicals may become incorporated into dust or smoke and fall to the ground through dry deposition. sticking to the ground, buildings, homes, cars, and trees. Dry deposited gases and particles can be washed from these surfaces by rainstorms, leading to increased runoff. This runoff water makes the resulting mixture more acidic. About half of the acidity in the atmosphere falls back to earth through dry deposition.

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