Nitrogen in fertilized soil is released into the air in the form of nitrous acid, which helps the atmosphere to clean itself, says a new study.

Researchers from the Biogeochemistry Department at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, Germany, said that after getting released into the atmosphere, the amount of nitrous acid increases with growing soil acidity.

In order to determine the ability of soil nitrite to produce considerable amounts of nitrous acid, researchers used a laboratory setting. From field observations, researchers found that in the lower atmosphere, up to 30 percent of the primary Hydroxyl radicals (OH) production is attributed to the photolysis of nitrous acid. OH radicals are a key species in atmospheric photochemistry that oxidize pollutants that can then be washed out.

The study, released in the journal Science, said that the oxidizing capacity of the atmosphere might be strongly influenced by agricultural activities and land-use changes.

According to scientists, there is an extensive occurrence of nitrite-producing microbes, and because of this the release of nitrous acid from soil may also be significant for natural environments, including forests and boreal regions.