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Environmental sciences science fair project:
What are the Effects of Acid Rain on Germination?


Science Fair Project Information
Title: What are the Effects of Acid Rain on Germination?
Subject: Environmental Sciences
Grade level: Elementary School - Grades 4-6
Academic Level: Ordinary
Project Type: Experimental
Cost: Low
Affiliation: Selah School District
Year: 1999
Description: The manipulated variable was the concentration of acid in water irrigation and the responding variable was the percentage of plant seeds that germinated in fourteen days.
Link: http://www.selah.k12.wa.us/SOAR/SciProj99/CodySciProj.html
Short Background

Acid Rain Effects on Plants

Acid rain is rain or any other form of precipitation that is unusually acidic. It has harmful effects on plants, aquatic animals, and infrastructure. Acid rain is mostly caused by human emissions of sulfur and nitrogen compounds which react in the atmosphere to produce acids. In recent years, many governments have introduced laws to reduce these emissions.

Soil biology and chemistry can be seriously damaged by acid rain. Some microbes are unable to tolerate changes to low pHs and are killed. The enzymes of these microbes are denatured (changed in shape so they no longer function) by the acid. The hydronium ions of acid rain also mobilize toxins, e.g. aluminium, and leach away essential nutrients and minerals.

Soil chemistry can be dramatically changed when base cations, such as calcium and magnesium, are leached by acid rain thereby affecting sensitive species, such as sugar maple (Acer saccharum).

Adverse effects may be indirectly related to acid rain, like the acid's effects on soil or high concentration of gaseous precursors to acid rain. High altitude forests are especially vulnerable as they are often surrounded by clouds and fog which are more acidic than rain.

Other plants can also be damaged by acid rain but the effect on food crops is minimized by the application of lime and fertilizers to replace lost nutrients. In cultivated areas, limestone may also be added to increase the ability of the soil to keep the pH stable, but this tactic is largely unusable in the case of wilderness lands. When calcium is leached from the needles of red spruce, these trees become less cold tolerant and exhibit winter injury and even death.

Germination

Germination is the growth of an embryonic plant contained within a seed; it results in the formation of the seedling. The seed of a higher plant is a small package produced in a fruit or cone after the union of male and female sex cells. Most seeds go through a period of quiescences where there is no active growth, during this time the seed can be safely transported to a new location and/or survive adverse climate conditions until it is favorable for growth. The seed contains an embryo and in most plants stored food reserves wrapped in a seed coat. Under favorable conditions, the seed begins to germinate, and the embryonic tissues resume growth, developing towards a seedling.

The germination of seeds is dependent on both internal and external conditions. The most important external factors include: temperature, water, oxygen and sometimes light or darkness. Different plants have seeds that require distinctive variables for successful germination. Often this depends on the individual seed variety and is closely linked to the ecological conditions of the plants' natural habitat. For some seeds, future germination responses are affected by environmental conditions during seed formation; most often these responses are types of seed dormancy.

Source: Wikipedia (All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License)

For More Information (Background, experiments, pictures and references): Acid Rain, Seeds and Germination

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