# Does rain (temporarily) deplete the surrounding atmosphere of carbon dioxide?

CO2 in the air dissolves into rain water, making them slightly acidic. Is that enough to deplete the surrounding air out of CO2? If yes, how fast does this occur? Is it only with the first drops of rain or do you need several hours?

How long does it take for the surrounding atmosphere to regain its original CO2 contents, assuming this actually happens?

• I would have thought that the CO2 would be dissolved as the cloud formed, rather than as it rained, and hence there would be plenty of time for the mixing of the atmosphere to even out any changes in concentration, but that is just my intuition. Interesting question. – Dikran Marsupial Nov 17 '15 at 9:59
• the dimensionless Henrey constant is something about 0,83 so you have 0,83 x 400 ppm = 332 ppm CO2 in the water. give nthat the molar concentration in water and air is almost the same but the air column is very very high compared to the liquid water volume I'd say the effect on the athmosphere is small to rediculosly small. – mart Nov 17 '15 at 10:51
• @mart nice estimate. I found two websites that suggest the number 355 PPM. Here ehow.com/info_12300030_much-co2-rain-water.html and here: chemistry.wustl.edu/~edudev/LabTutorials/Water/FreshWater/… Given that water vapor is rarely more than 3% of the atmosphere and only a fraction of that can turn into rain, and the PPM is slightly lower in rain-water than air, that's a pretty slow way of pulling CO2 from the atmosphere. what's more, as rain water evaporates, that CO2 is returned to the atmosphere. – userLTK Nov 17 '15 at 23:55

Here is the mass-calculation. We will consider a column of the atmosphere with a footprint of 1m × 1m. This column weighs about 10,000 kg (per square metre). In these days of climate change we will assume the current average CO2 concentration is 400 ppm, yielding a total mass of CO2 in this column of 4 kg. The rain doesn't wash out the entire thickness of atmosphere but only (in general) the lowermost troposphere. We will assume, generously, that some 2.5 kg of this 4 kg of CO2 is available to be scavenged by raindrops. Now consider a cloudburst of raindrops, equivalent to some 100 mm on the ground. So we have 0.1 cubic metres, or 100 kg, of fallen raindrops within our square metre column of air. The solubility of CO2 in air is strongly temperature dependent, up to 2.5 g per kg at 10 deg C. But at such a low temperature we couldn't achieve 100 mm of rainfall, so we will compromise at about 1.5 g per kg at 25 °C. So, assuming complete CO2 saturation within the raindrops (unlikely) our 100 kg of rain will contain 0.15 kg of CO2 , scavenged from about 2.5 kg of CO2 in the 'rained out' column of air, or about 6% of the low atmospheric CO2 .

Bear in mind that this assumes an enormous rainfall intensity, 100% CO2 saturation of the water and equilibrium chemical dynamics. After the raindrops hit the ground at least half of it will immediately re-evaporate back into the air, leaving, at absolute most, about 3% of the atmospheric CO2 leached out of the atmosphere that will be available to react with the soil, rock or biosphere. Also consider that this is but one of several important processes affecting CO2 transience, such as photosynthesis, respiration, volcanism, industrial pollution, etc. So the CO2 estimates that you read about are average values. Advection and turbulent air mixing should ensure that the CO2 regains approximately normal concentration within an hour or two after rainfall.

• The 'hour or two' is not pure speculation, it is a rough estimate based upon a typical duration of rain-storm and footprint size, and a typical advection rate of replacement air. There are so many variables that it is pointless to try to be more precise. The back of an envelope calculation is not meant to be precise, but is sufficient to demonstrate that rain cannot greatly affect the CO2, even under extreme conditions. – Gordon Stanger Nov 17 '15 at 20:00
• There are estimates posted above that CO2 by PPM in a rain-drop is about 355, so 1 KG of rain using 355 PPM estimate, is about .355 grams (equivalent) and when we adjust for molecular weight, about .87 grams CO2 per KG of rain. Your estimate, 1.5 g per KG isn't too far off, but it's nearly twice the actual amount. Something else to consider, especially in warmer temperatures, a share of rain water evaporates so a share of that CO2 is fairly quickly returned to the atmosphere. Props for working out the calculation though. – userLTK Nov 18 '15 at 0:08
• ppm is not mass% – mart Nov 18 '15 at 7:32
• @mart I did that. That's why it went from .355 grams (equivalent) to .87 grams (real). CO2 being about 2.4 times the mass of H20. – userLTK Nov 19 '15 at 3:06
• 355, 400 ppm? Who gives a stuff? - it's just a back of an envelope calculation to demonstrate that the scale of CO2 scavenging by rain is trivially small. – Gordon Stanger Nov 19 '15 at 4:00

75% of the earth's surface is covered with water. That water is in dynamic equilibrium with CO2 in the atmosphere at all times. The CO2 ends up precipitating in our oceans as Calcium carbonate. This is an infinite sink for CO2 disposal in what has long been studied as the Carbonate cycle. This Carbon Dioxide continuously flowing into the oceans from the atmosphere is a natural fertilizer and food for many forms of aquatic life. Look at our huge limestone mountains and you can clearly see the lines indicating this limestone was formed by the precipitation of lime over many millions of years from our oceans.

• Hi Paul, welcome to SE. This is, as I understand it, correct information - but it doesn't seem to actually answer the question, which is about the rate of one bit of this cycle. Perhaps you could add to your answer to link it to what was asked? – Semidiurnal Simon Sep 23 '18 at 15:48
• One point is that even if the amount of carbon dioxide extracted from the air is small it is a continuous process of rain continuously extracting CO2 from the atmosphere and flushing it into rivers,lakes and eventually the oceans. Even if the rainwater evaporates in some environments thereby releasing the CO2 back to the atmosphere, any of the rainwater that lands in bodies of water (75 % of earths surface) the Dissolved CO2 will remain dissolved in surface waters. Thus there is a continuous flux of CO2 going into waterways over time. The partion coefficient insures this. – Paul Cranley Sep 23 '18 at 20:25

There is approximantly 11,250 trees in the world left over in world after taking the total human CO2 human CO2 footprint to eat up all the CO2 produced by human activity. There are many other CO2 natural Users of CO2 not mentioned. Nevertheless if we are not 100% sure about the CO2 scare what if we have too little CO2 in the climate then we have a cooling planet And that would be worse than too warm. Kim Lilly

• The question asks about the effects of rain on CO$_2$ levels, so this really is not an answer relating to what they're asking about :-/ – JeopardyTempest Nov 29 '18 at 6:39