Acid rain in the Adirondacks

Publication Date

Michael Vineyard, Frank and Marie Louise Bailey Professor of Physics (With Scott LaBrake, senior physics lecturer, Salina Ali ’15, Benjamin Nadareski ’16, Alexandrea Safiq ’14, Jeremy Smith ’14, Joshua Yoskowitz ’16)

Acid rain. It sounds bad. And it is. This kind of rain can harm life it’s meant to sustain.

“Acid rain is a broad term referring to a mixture of wet and dry deposited materials from the atmosphere containing higher than normal amounts of nitric and sulfuric acids,” said Michael Vineyard, whose studying airborne pollutants in upstate New York.

His research indicates significant concentrations of sulfur in the atmosphere in the Adirondack Mountains, much of it potentially in the form of sulfur oxides that probably come from coal burning industry as far away as the mid-western U.S.

“Sulfur dioxide dissolves very easily in water and can be carried very far by the wind, becoming part of the rain, sleet, snow and fog we experience in the Adirondacks,” Vineyard said. “This acid rain causes acidification of lakes and streams and contributes to the damage of trees, like red spruce, at high elevations.” explains further: Acid rain can reduce certain fish populations and even eliminate entire species from a given waterbody. It can decrease overall ecosystem biodiversity, making it harder for everything—from mayflies to frogs to trout—to survive.

It can even degrade man-made treasures.

“Acid rain accelerates the decay of building materials and paints, including irreplaceable buildings, statues and sculptures that are part of our nation’s cultural heritage,” Vineyard said.

Vineyard’s research is supported by a National Science Foundation MRI Award that made possible the purchase of specialized equipment used in the study.


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