A newly discovered form of chemical intermediary in the atmosphere has the ability to remove pollutants in a way that leads to cloud-formation and could potentially help offset global warming.

The existence of these so-called Criegee biradicals, which are formed when ozone reacts with a certain class of organic compounds, was theorized over fifty years ago, but they have now been created and studied in the laboratory for the first time.

According to Science Daily, the discovery was made possible through the use of a third-generation synchrotron at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory which produces an intense, tunable light that enables scientists to differentiate between molecules which contain the same atoms but arranged in different combinations.

The Criegee biradicals -- named after Rudolph Criegee, who postulated their existence in the 1950's -- turn out to react with pollutants, such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, much more rapidly than expected to form sulphates and nitrates. "These compounds," Science Daily explains, "will lead to aerosol formation and ultimately to cloud formation with the potential to cool the planet."

One of the authors of the paper describing the discovery, Dr. Carl Percival of the University of Manchester, believes that the results "have a significant impact on our understanding of the oxidising capacity of the atmosphere and have wide ranging implications for pollution and climate change." He notes that since the compounds which form these molecules are organic in origin, it may mean that "the ecosystem is negating climate change more efficiently than we thought it was."

The scientists emphasize, however, that they're a long way off from being able to control the formation of Criegee biradicals themselves, which means that the best thing we can do is preserve the environment so that it can do its job.

Photo by Alex Chupryna *Licanse: GFDL {{GFDL-self}} from Wikimedia Commons