The Earth’s soil, air and water are growing more acidic and will continue to do so, a new study from U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Virginia says. The main culprits, the researchers say, are coal mining and nitrogen fertilizers.
Environmental regulations in the U.S. coal mining regions has improved acidity risks, but countries like China where population demands are exploding and where coal mining is largely unregulated, are creating chemical oxidation, which leads to acidic atmospheres and rain, contaminating soils worldwide. Nitrogen fertlizer are also a major contributer to the problem.
The danger of rising acidity, the researchers say, are damage to ocean food webs and the ability to sustain plant growth.
“We believe that this study is the first attempt to assess all of the major human activities that are making Earth more acidic,” says USGS scientist and study leader Karen Rice, who is quoted in USGS’s article on the study. “We hope others will use this as a starting point for making scientific and management progress to preserve the atmosphere, waters and soils that support human life.”
To better understand the global impact, researchers created world maps to show current coal use, nutrient consumption and copper production and smelting by country. They then combined this data with the anticipated population growth through 2050. From this they made a few predictions.
Rice mentioned one example. In Africa, the populations of some countries are projected to increase in the near future. To support the growing populations, these countries will likely apply more nitrogen fertilizer to their crops than they currently use, increasing the acidification of soils and freshwater resources in a region that had not previously been affected.