The global distribution of acidifying wet deposition.

Environmental science & technology

PubMedID: 12387412

Rodhe H, Dentener F, Schulz M. The global distribution of acidifying wet deposition. Environ Sci Technol. 2002;36(20):4382-8.
The acid-base status of precipitation is a result of a balance between acidifying compounds--mainly oxides of sulfur and nitrogen--and alkaline compounds--mainly ammonia and alkaline material in windblown soil dust. We use current models of the global atmospheric distribution of such compounds to estimate the geographical distribution of pH in precipitation and of the rate of deposition of hydrogen ion or bicarbonate ion. The lowest pH values--mainly due to high concentration of sulfuric acid--occur in eastern parts of North America, Europe, and China. A comparison with observed pH values shows fair agreement in most parts of the world. However, in some areas, e.g. western North America, southwestern Europe, and northern China the estimated pH is too low, indicating that we have underestimated the deposition flux of alkaline material, probably mainly CaCO3. Our neglect of organic acids may have contributed to an overestimate of pH especially in certain tropical areas. To illustrate the potential effects of acidifying deposition on nitrogen saturated terrestrial ecosystems we also calculate the deposition of "potential acidity" that takes into account the microbial transformation of ammonium to nitrate in such ecosystems, resulting in the release of hydrogen ion. Compared to the deposition of acidity, with its maxima over Europe, eastern North America, and southern China, the deposition of potential acidity exhibits an additional maximum in India and Bangladesh and in several other smaller hot spots where the cycling of ammonia is enhanced by a dense cattle population. To the extent that soils in these areas of high potential acidity deposition actually become nitrogen saturated a depletion of base cations and other changes in soil chemistry and biology should be expected. Potential problem areas forfuture soil acidification include several regions with sensitive soils in southern, southeastern, and eastern Asia as well as in central parts of South America.