Science Cafe

Acid rain falls on Athens, OU professor says


Cortney Willis, cw238906@ohio.edu

The Front Room fills up very quickly, students just barely outnumbering adults. Anticipation fills the air, and one can almost feel the excitement running through the audience members. The event is not a concert or anything headlined by a typical celebrity: it’s Ohio University’s Science Café, a casual, informal weekly event in which a faculty member presents an interesting topic of scientific significance in layman’s terms.

This week’s topic was climate change. “I like to think of myself as a Phosphorus-Bio-Geo-Chemist,” said this week’s discussion leader, Dr. Jared
DeForest, an OU professor of Environmental and Plant Biology. He went on to describe the chemical and environmental changes that have occurred over time around the Athens County area, focusing on acid rain. Athens, interestingly enough, is one of the few hot spots for acid rain remaining today. This, DeForest explained, is due do the high concentration of coal-powered plants on the Ohio River, which puts hydrogen, nitrogen, and sulfur into the atmosphere.

A consequence of acid rain is the releasing of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The calcium carbonate found in natural soil reacts to the acid rain, rendering it incapable of sustaining plant life, DeForest said. During the presentation, DeForest passed around little glass jars of local soil, and bottles of water with a pH concentration close to that of acid rain. He had the audience preform an experiment: dump the water into the soil, he said. Water in the bottles made the soil fizz and bubble like a freshly opened can of soda.

DeForest went on to explain the further consequences of acid rain. Though plant life has developed strategies to survive under acidic conditions, he said, scientists still do not know what’s going to happen to the environment due to the effects of acid rain. There hasn’t been enough time; the environment is in a state of flux.

Following his lecture, DeForest took questions from the audience. The exchange was informal and comfortable. Occasionally, DeForest would even throw out a trivia question. If someone answered correctly, they would win a “Science Café” t-shirt.

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