What is in rain and snow?

Have you ever considered what is actually in the rain or snow that falls? Besides the water molecules themselves (two hydrogen and one oxygen atom) there are lots of other interesting things in rain and snow. Rain and snow develop from water vapor which is drawn up from the earth, condenses, cools and then falls back down to the ground.  So rain or snow that falls in one area could actually be from water vapor originating from distant places. Another reason to be concerned about pollution, even if you live in a seemingly pollution free area.

So what is in rain and snow?

Atmospheric Aerosol Particles-Without dust (mineral, microbial, and including pollen), sulfates from marine phytoplankton, and sea salt or ammonium salts, water droplets would not be able form. These are all naturally occurring “condensation nuclei” around which water vapor can condense. Other aerosol particles that can act as condensation nuclei, that often originate from anthropogenic sources include soot (black carbon), smoke, and ash.

Sulfuric Acid-is naturally occurring in volcanic gases.  It is also emitted by from metal smelters, phosphate fertilizer producers, oil refiners, the chemical industry, battery manufacturers, manufacturers or fabricated metal products, manufacturers of electronic components, and manufacturers of measuring and controlling devices.  Hard surface cleaners, metal cleaners, pool chemicals, car, motorcycle, truck and boat batteries are also common household sources for sulfuric acid.  Sulfuric acid in the air is readily dissolved by clouds, rain, snow, fog, and dew, resulting in acid rain.  Acid rain can be corrosive and detrimental to aquatic life.

Nitric Acid– is also naturally occurring in and around volcanos. It is also emitted into the atmosphere wherever high temperature combustion takes place in the atmosphere in the presence of nitrogen, oxygen and water, such as water-chemical plants, metal, electronic, printing, glass, rubber and plastics plants and industries. Vehicles also emit nitric acid. It also can be found in waste water from factory farming operations.  Nitric acid is more prevalent in the atmosphere around big cities.

Ammonia– is naturally occurring as a result of the decomposition process of urine and manure. Ammonia is also released during intensive livestock production, and from the manufacture of basic chemicals, metals, leather products, cement, lime, plaster and concrete products, glass products, ceramics, beverages, cars and car parts, textile products and paper and paper products. Ammonia is also produced from mining, electricity supply, car exhaust, and petroleum refining activities. Atmospheric Ammonia is reactive with sulfuric and nitric acids to produce fine ammonium (NH4+) containing aerosol. Ammonia is one of the main sources of nitrogen, key to life for all plants and animals.  It can, however, become a pollutant when concentrated, especially when introduced in large amounts to the water cycle.

Mercury– is naturally released into the atmosphere through evaporation from soils and from volcanic activity.  It is also emitted to the air by fossil fuel power plants, metal smelters, and cement manufacturers.






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