Soil acidification can occur because of several processes, such as:
Rainfall: Soils are very often found to be acidic in regions that have high rainfall. It is observed that rainwater has a pH that is slightly acidic because of a reaction with the atmospheric CO2 that generates carbonic acid. The rainwater seeps through the soil and the basic ions such as bicarbonates are leached from it; hence, the percentage of H+ and Al3+ increases relative to the other cations.
Fertilizer use: In the soil, the ammonium fertilizers react by the nitrification process to form nitrate; and during this, there is a release of H+.
Acid rain: Fossil fuels, when burnt, release oxides of nitrogen and sulfur into the atmosphere. These oxides in the atmosphere react with water to form nitric and sulfuric acid in rain.
The alkalinity of the soil can increase because of:
Weathering of the minerals such as carbonate, aluminosilicate, and silicate that contain K+, Mg2+, Ca2+, and Na+.
Addition of carbonate, aluminosilicate, and silicate minerals to the soils. This can occur by the mineral deposition that is eroded elsewhere by water or wind, or by mixing the soil with the less weathered material.
Addition of water that contains dissolved bicarbonates. That occurs when the soils are irrigated with the high-bicarbonate waters.
Problems with alkaline (high pH) soils
The alkalinity of soils is generally caused by carbonates and bicarbonates, although borates, some other organic molecules, and phosphates can also contribute to alkalinity. The soils having pH from 7-8.2 mostly have carbonates and bicarbonates of magnesium and calcium. The calcareous soils comprise 1-90% lime material in the form of calcium carbonates. These sparingly soluble salts result in a soil pH of around 8.0 to 8.2, which does not cause serious problems for agricultural production or plant growth. In alkaline soils, problems occur when there is an accumulation of sodium, and it forms salts like sodium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate. They are highly soluble, and hence they increase the pH of the soil above 8. When the pH of the soil is greater than 9, it is highly alkaline, and often, there are toxic amounts of aluminum, carbonate, iron, and bicarbonate present. Nutrient deficiency of the soil is also a major crisis, and the high sodium levels in soil can reduce its fertility.
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