Geographic Areas of Acid Rain Concern
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Geographic Areas of Acid Rain Concern
The United States can be divided into two areas when looking at areas of high acid rain concentration versus areas of low concentration. Generally speaking, the Mississippi River serves as a good boundary line between the higher and lower acidity levels in the country. West of the Mississippi River, hydrogen ion concentrations, or pH levels, are at 5.0 and above, with only a few areas at about 4.8 or 4.9. East of the Mississippi River, pH levels range from 4.7 down to below 4.3 (See Figure 1). Therefore, the eastern United States is a critical area of concern in acid rain production and deposition. This is especially true in the Northeast and in eastern parts of the Midwest. This area has had a long history of coal burning and other industrial activity which causes heavy environmental pollutants. The Ohio River Valley is the region with the highest output of sulfur and nitrogen oxides in the country. Seven states in the valley, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, accounted for 41 percent of the national total emission in 1997 (Driscoll, 2001). As a result of the winds carrying these pollutants eastward, the forests of the Northeast coast/Appalachian region have suffered greatly from the gases that have fallen down on them in the form of precipitation. The spruce trees in the highest elevations of the Appalachians are at highest risk to exposition to liquid acidity since the trees actually touch the acid clouds (Hart, 2001). Red spruce trees all across the northeast have declined in growth, as well as sugar maple trees in central and western Pennsylvania (Driscoll, 2001).
Eastern Canada is also facing major concerns with acid rain. There is a large industrial output polluting the atmosphere mainly from oil refining and metal smelting in the region. However, not all of the acid that is deposited on these forests is produced locally. Many of the pollutants affecting Canadian forests come from industrial centers in the Northeastern and Midwestern United States (Hart, 2001). The maple and coniferous forests in the provinces of Ontario and Quebec are enduring damage from heavy acid precipitation (See Figure 2). The Canadian Shield region of these two provinces is particularly vulnerable to acid rain because of the igneous bedrock that exists throughout. The carbonates in the bedrock do not have the capacity to buffer out acidity, so the soils cannot keep the water at a constant pH, causing major damage to plant life in the forests. In central Ontario, the average pH of rainfall is 4.2 (Stuart, year unknown).
North America is not the only part of the world experiencing acid rain problems. Europe is greatly affected by this phenomenon as well. The main areas of concern are particularly northern and central Europe (See Figure 3). Acid rain has plagued the forests of the northeastern region of England with many areas reporting pH readings below 4.3 (See Figure 4). It is reported that much of the acid pollutants come from mainland Europe. In Sweden, high amounts of sulfur and nitrogen linger overhead, thus is an area of concern for acid rain. Only some of the pollutants deposited in Sweden are produced within the country itself; most come from the British Isles and central and eastern Europe. Finland has many of the same sources of acid rain as Sweden (Michaels, 2000). In central Europe, acidity is very high with pH levels averaging 4.3 in parts of eastern Germany, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia. Half of the trees in the Black Forest of southwestern Germany are damaged by acid rain and other forms of pollutants (Hart, 2001). It is Poland however, that has the highest risk of acid rain in Europe. The heaviest area of acid deposition lies in lower Selisia in southern Poland (See Figure 5). The country’s industries are part of what put the forests of the upper Elbe/Older basin in danger, but the main source of toxic pollutants comes from the southern region of what used to be known as East Germany. For these reasons, the area encompassing eastern Germany, the Czech Republic, and Poland has been named “The Black Triangle” (Rautengarten, year unknown).
East Asia is yet another area of concern in high acid rain concentration. This region is very densely populated and its rate of population growth continues to skyrocket. As a result, more industries have developed and therefore more output of sulfur and nitrogen oxides has taken place. China is the country with the biggest output of pollutants. There is a significant problem in the central and southeastern parts of China. South of the Yangtze River and east of the Qinghai-Tibet plateau, acidity is at its highest (See Figure 6). pH values lower than 4.5 were recorded in the southern cities of Changsha, Zunyi, Hangzhou, and Yibin. Acid rain frequency was over 90% in the cities of Changsha, Jingdezhen, and Zunyi. It is estimated that the sulfur dioxide emission, which will significantly contribute to acid rain, will increase by about 7 million tons every ten years (, 2002). Japan is another country that is currently facing a problem with acid rain. About 67% of Japan is covered with forests, making it one of the countries with the largest percentages of forest cover remaining. Because of this, there is a large amount of vegetation cover at risk due to the industries of the East Asia region (Ministry of the Environment- Japan, 1997). Japan itself does not release many acidic pollutants into the air due to a lack of domestic coal reserves. The vast majority of the pollutants come from Chinese industries. They are carried over by the westerly winds and are then precipitated onto Japan. The Korean Peninsula is also in the path of China’s industrial output, making acid rain a large concern in the area (See Figure 7).
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