Air Pollution Affects Plants, Animals, and Environments

Both of these pots of clover plants have been growing for 30 days, but one looks healthier than the other! The clover plants in the top picture (A) were given normal water. The clover plants in the lower picture (B) were given acidic water (pH=2.0) for the latter 20 days. When air pollution causes acid rain, plants that rely on rain water to live and grow are endangered.
Click on image for full size (52K GIF)
Greg Anderson, Bates College, Department of Biology

Air pollution does not only damage the air; it also damages environments on Earthís surface and their inhabitants. Plants and animals are harmed by air pollution. Sometimes it is the pollutants themselves that cause damage. Other times pollutants combine and change the resources that plants and animals depend upon such as water, soil, and nutrients. Read on to learn more about the ways that air pollutants can damage environments and the living things within them.

Acid rain harms living things
When an air pollutant, such as sulfuric acid combines with the water droplets that make up clouds, the water droplets become acidic. When those droplets fall to the ground as rain or snow, the acidity of the water can have damaging effects on the environment. When acid rain falls over an area, it can kill trees and harm animals, fish, and other wildlife. Acid rain destroys the leaves of plants. When acid rain infiltrates into soils, it changes the chemistry of the soil making it unfit for many living things that rely on soil as a habitat or for nutrition. Acid rain also changes the chemistry of the lakes and streams that the rainwater flows into, harming fish and other aquatic life.

The thinning ozone layer harms living things
Air pollutants called chlorofluorocarbons(or CFCs) destroy ozone molecules in the stratosphere. This has left places in the layer where the ozone is thin. These areas of thin ozone are called ozone holes. The ozone layer, located in the stratosphere layer of Earthís atmosphere, shields our planet from the Sunís ultraviolet radiation. Ultraviolet radiation causes skin cancer and damages plants and wildlife. In recent decades the number of CFCs released into the atmosphere has decreased significantly due to an agreement between the nations of the world called the Montreal Protocol. Although it takes a long time to see the impact, the ozone holes might someday be smaller.

Tropospheric ozone harms living things
Ozone molecules in the troposphere damage lung tissues of animals and prevent plant respiration by blocking the openings in leaves, called stomata, where respiration occurs. Without sufficient respiration, a plant is not able to photosynthesize at a high rate and will not be able to grow. Ozone is also able to enter the stomata and decay plant cells directly.

Global warming harms living things
Our planet is currently warming much more rapidly than expected because of additional greenhouse gasses that are released into the atmosphere from air pollution. When fuels are burned, some of the pollutants released, such as carbon dioxide, are greenhouses gasses. Through the process of photosynthesis, plants convert carbon dioxide into oxygen and use the carbon to grow larger. However, the amount of carbon dioxide released by burning fuels is far greater than plants can convert. Cutting down forests exacerbates the problem.

Global warming is changing climate globally and is causing significant changes to various regions of the world. For example:

  • Polar ice melt and permafrost melt are causing changes in the habitat and resources for plants and animals living in polar ecosystems.
  • Ocean warming, rising sea levels, increasing runoff, and coral diseases are causing change in shallow marine ecosystems such as coral reefs.
  • Less rainfall in the dry interiors of continents due to global warming is limiting water resources for plants and animals.

Find out more about how acid rain affects plants! (from the Bates College Biology Dept.)

Air Pollution Affects Plants, Animals, and Environments

Both of these pots of clover plants have been growing for 30 days, but one looks healthier than the other! The clover plants in the top picture (A) were given normal water. The clover plants in the lower picture (B) were given acidic water (pH=2.0) for the latter 20 days. When air pollution causes acid rain, plants that rely on rain water to live and grow are endangered.
Click on image for full size (52K GIF)
Greg Anderson, Bates College, Department of Biology

Some air pollutants harm plants and animals directly. Other pollutants harm the habitat, food or water that plants and animals need to survive. Read on to learn more about how air pollutants harm plants and animals.

Acid rain harms living things
When acidic air pollutants combine with water droplets in clouds, the water becomes acidic. When those droplets fall to the ground, the acid rain can damage the environment. Damage due to acid rain kills trees and harms animals, fish, and other wildlife. Acid rain can destroy the leaves of plants like in the picture at the left. When acid rain soaks into the ground, it can make the soil an unfit habitat for many living things. Acid rain also changes the chemistry of the water in lakes and streams, harming fish and other aquatic life.

The thinning ozone layer harms living things
Air pollutants called chlorofluorocarbons(or CFCs) have destroyed parts of the ozone layer.The ozone layer, located in the stratosphere layer of Earth's atmosphere, shields our planet from the Sun's ultraviolet radiation. The areas of thin ozone are called ozone holes. Ultraviolet radiation causes skin cancer and damages plants and wildlife.

Tropospheric ozone harms living things
Ozone molecules wind up near the Earth's surface as a part of air pollution. Ozone molecules near the ground damages lung tissues of animals and prevent plant respiration by blocking the openings in leaves where respiration occurs. Without respiration, a plant is not able to photosynthesize at a high rate and so it will not be able to grow.

Global warming harms living things
Our planet is currently warming much more rapidly than expected because additional greenhouse gasses are being released into the atmosphere from air pollution. When fuels are burned, some of the pollutants released are greenhouses gasses. Through the process of photosynthesis, plants convert carbon dioxide into oxygen and use the carbon to grow larger. However, the amount of carbon dioxide released by burning fuels is much more than plants can convert.

Global warming is causing changes to the places where plants and animals live around the world. For example:

  • Near the poles, ice and frozen ground are melting. This causes changes in the habitat and resources for plants and animals living there.
  • Ocean warming, rising sea levels, runoff, and coral diseases are causing change in shallow marine environments such as coral reefs.
  • Global warming is causing less rain to fall in the middle of continents. This makes these areas very dry and limits water resources for plants and animals.

Find out more about how acid rain affects plants! (from the Bates College Biology Dept.)

Air Pollution Affects Plants, Animals, and Environments

Both of these pots hold the same type of plant. And the plants have been growing for the same amount of time. But they donít look the same! The clover plants in the top picture (A) were given regular water. The clover plants in the lower picture (B) were given acidic water. When air pollution makes acid rain, plants that need rain water to live and grow are damaged.
Click on image for full size (52K GIF)
Greg Anderson, Bates College, Department of Biology

Acid rain harms living things
Did you know that air pollution can change the rain? And all living things need rain for water to drink, or to swim within. The rain changed by air pollution is called acid rain. Acid rain kills trees and harms animals. Acid rain can destroy the leaves of plants like in this picture. When acid rain soaks into the ground, it can make the soil unhealthy for many living things. Acid rain also changes the water in lakes and streams, harming fish and other aquatic life.

Ozone holes harm living things
Some air pollutants have damaged parts of the ozone layer high in the atmosphere. The ozone layer protects our planet from the Sun's harmful rays. The areas of thin ozone are called ozone holes. These strong rays from the Sun cause skin cancer and damage plants and wildlife.

Ozone near the ground harms living things
Pollution releases ozone near the ground. Ozone molecules near the ground hurt the lungs of animals and people and prevent plants from breathing by blocking the openings in leaves where they breathe. Without breathing, a plant is not able to grow.

Global warming harms living things
Our planet is currently warming quickly. The extra warmth is caused by greenhouse gasses from air pollution. Greenhouse gasses are released into the atmosphere when fuels are burned. Plants can make some of the greenhouse gasses into oxygen in the air and carbon to grow their leaves, stems, and trunks larger. However, the amount of greenhouse gasses released in air pollution is much more than plants can use.

Global warming is causing changes to the places where plants and animals live around the world. For example:

  • Near the poles, ice and frozen ground are melting. This causes changes in the habitat and resources for plants and animals living there.
  • Ocean warming, rising sea levels, runoff, and coral diseases are causing change in shallow marine environments such as coral reefs.
  • Global warming is causing less rain to fall in the middle of continents. This makes these areas very dry and limits water resources for plants and animals.

Find out more about how acid rain affects plants! (from the Bates College Biology Dept.)


Page created February 21, 2006 by Lisa Gardiner. Last modified February 21, 2006 by Lisa Gardiner.
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