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Acid rain is eating away at the Mayan ruins, scientist warns

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Chichen Itza’s feathered “serpent.” Photo: Getty

Acid rain is slowly dissolving ancient Mayan pyramids, temples and other vestiges of their civilization, a UNAM biologist warned.

Mayan ruins are made with limestone, which gradually wears away with contaminated rainfall,  caused by atmospheric pollution.

The main cause of acid rain is industrial burning of coal and other fossil fuels.

“In a period of 100 years you can lose all the inscriptions and writings that are on the stelae and on the columns,” said Pablo Sánchez, an academic from the Center for Atmospheric Sciences at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

Restorers do not know how to protect the Mayan ruins from acid rain. There is no protective layer that can be applied to the limestone because it has to breathe. Any known sealant would only accelerate its degradation.

Restoration experts are investigating new technology that would allow a protective film on the monuments while still allowing the rock to breathe.

Rain is considered acidic when the pH level is lower than 5.6, something that happens “when sulfur oxide and nitrogen oxide pollutants are incorporated,” he explained.


The destructive power of this phenomenon also ends up corroding metals and modern structures over time.

The difficulty in dealing with this phenomenon is due to the fact that its origin can be found thousands of kilometers away from the place where precipitation finally happens.

This translates into an acid rain that occurred in Mexico may be due to the emission of toxic compounds in Cuba or Venezuela, Sánchez said.

Acid rain also affects the structure of the soil, preventing plants from absorbing nutrients, and making them more sensitive to infections and parasites.

And sea life is affected, starting from plankton and all the way up the food chain, he said.

Text and photos: Agencies

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