How does acid precipitation affect marble and limestone buildings?

When sulfurous, sulfuric, and nitric acids in polluted air and rain react with the calcite in marble and limestone, the calcite dissolves. In exposed areas of buildings and statues, we see roughened surfaces, removal of material, and loss of carved details. Stone surface material may be lost all over or only in spots that are more reactive.

You might expect that sheltered areas of stone buildings and monuments would not be affected by acid precipitation. However, sheltered areas on limestone and marble buildings and monuments show blackened crusts that have peeled off in some places, revealing crumbling stone beneath. This black crust is primarily composed of gypsum, a mineral that forms from the reaction between calcite, water, and sulfuric acid. Gypsum is soluble in water; although it can form anywhere on carbonate stone surfaces that are exposed to sulfur dioxide gas (SO2), it is usually washed away. It remains only on protected surfaces that are not directly washed by the rain.

Learn more: USGS Water Science School: Water as Acid Rain

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Can lakes near volcanoes become acidic enough to be dangerous to people and animals?

Yes. Crater lakes atop volcanoes are typically the most acid, with pH values as low as 0.1 (very strong acid). Normal lake waters, in contrast, have relatively neutral pH values near 7.0. The crater lake at El Chichon volcano in Mexico had a pH of 0.5 in 1983 and Mount Pinatubo's crater lake had a pH of 1.9 in 1992. The acid waters of these lakes...

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How does mine drainage occur?

Mine drainage is formed when pyrite (an iron sulfide) is exposed and reacts with air and water to form sulfuric acid and dissolved iron. Some or all of this iron can precipitate to form the red, orange, or yellow sediments in the bottom of streams containing mine drainage. The acid runoff further dissolves heavy metals such as copper, lead, and...
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Date published: November 4, 2015

Acid Rain Effects on Forest Soils begin to Reverse

Soil acidification from acid rain that is harmful to plant and aquatic life has now begun to reverse in forests of the northeastern United States and eastern Canada, according to an American-Canadian collaboration of five institutions led by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Attribution: Water Resources
Date published: January 19, 2012

Acid Rain Study Show Substantial Decreases, But More Progress Is Needed

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Measurable improvements in air quality and visibility, human health, and water quality in many acid-sensitive lakes and streams, have been achieved through emissions reductions from electric generating power plants and resulting decreases in acid rain.

Date published: March 11, 2005

Acid Rain Likely Stunts U.S. Forests

A recent international scientific study on Russian soils raises concerns that acid rain may have serious implications for forest growth in the U.S., particularly in eastern areas such as the Adirondack and Catskill regions of New York according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Filter Total Items: 10
Image shows a detail of the texture of marble
July 20, 2016

Cockeysville Marble

Marble is a famous metamorphic rock known for its use in sculpture and architecture. This particular marble came from the Campbell Quarry in Texas, Maryland.

Attribution: Northeast
Stull Cemetery, Central Kansas
June 22, 2016

Stull Cemetery, KS.png

Stull Cemetery, Central Kansas

Image: Library of Congress Madison Building
December 13, 2014

Library of Congress Madison Building

Exterior of the Library of Congress' James Madison Memorial Building. Constructed of marble, the building took 5 years to complete.

Image: Library of Congress Jefferson Building
December 13, 2014

Library of Congress Jefferson Building

Exterior of the Library of Congress' Thomas Jefferson Building. Constructed of marble, the building took 11 years to complete.

Image: Library of Congress Jefferson Building
December 13, 2014

Library of Congress Jefferson Building

Exterior of the Library of Congress' Thomas Jefferson Building. Constructed of marble, the building took 11 years to complete.

Image: Library of Congress Jefferson Building
December 13, 2014

Library of Congress Jefferson Building

Exterior of the Library of Congress' Thomas Jefferson Building. Constructed of marble, the building took 11 years to complete.

Image: U.S. Capitol Building
July 26, 2013

U.S. Capitol Building

Picture of the U.S. Capitol Building

Image: The Department of Agriculture (South Building)
July 26, 2013

The Department of Agriculture (South Building)

The Department of Agriculture (South Building)

USGS
August 12, 2008

What are we doing about acid rain?

Listen to hear the answer.

USGS
May 13, 2008

Does the U.S. Geological Survey study acid rain?

Listen to hear the answer.