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Acidic Snow
Kenton M. Stewart

I looked out in wonder at new fallen snow
then thought to myself, it's acidic you know.
This wonder, this cleanser, this skier's delight,
this mantle of brightness, this purity white,
this wintery thing that sets children aglow
hides one little thing, it's acidic you know.

Its strange when you think that such whitish fluff
can separate earth from that atmosphere stuff,
through which it has fallen in crystalline form,
at least in the winter that is the norm,
that this thin whiteness that settles so slow
is such a mixed blessing...acidic you know.

Well, what about rain you may ask in dismay,
should children avoid it when outside they play?
And what about fog and what about mist,
are they like the snow, does the problem persist?
Are we to believe that the problem is wide,
Isn't it something our country can hide?

The issue at best is a tough one to solve
because of some oxides which tend to evolve
to acids, which may etch structural faces,
and damage some life in aquatic places,
As well as hurt plants and the soils below;
because of the snow, it's acidic you know.

The pH scale separates acids and bases
by negative logs and logarithmic places.
Above and below a pH midline
are bases and acids to help us define
precipitation in all forms we know,
for example the snow, it's acidic you know.

So where are the regions most sensitive now
to inputs of acids regardless of how?
Are they landscapes where crystalline rock is exposed?
According to some people, that is supposed.
In any case you should think twice about snow,
though lovely and scenic, it's acidic you know.

about this poem

Everyone knows that acid rain damages certain lakes and forests by making them too acidic for some organisms to live in.  However, many people forget that during the winter acid rain falls to earth as acidic snow.  Thus snow, like rain, can be destructive when air pollution makes it acidic, and when it falls on ecosystems that cannot tolerate acid inputs.

During the 1980's, Professor Kenton M. Stewart of the Department of Biological Sciences, State University of New York at Buffalo did pioneering research on this topic.  Collecting snow from many different rural and urban sites in western New York state, he found that "the overwhelming majority (but not all) of the samples were acidic." 

To focus people's attention on the fact that snow, like rain, can become acidic, Professor Stewart wrote the above poem.  Inspiration came to him "while driving to Colorado in January 1988, noticing the snow on the roads and fields, and thinking about that thin white acidic demarcation of earth and sky."  When traffic on the interstate highways was light, he drove with his left hand and wrote lines on a piece of paper with his right hand.

This poem and the story behind it were originally published in the Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America, Volume 71, pages 89-90 (1990).  They are reprinted here with the permission of the Ecological Society of America and Dr. Stewart.  The photograph was taken by Nils Kristensen (Denmark).







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