In the central Arctic Ocean the formation of clouds and their properties are sensitive to the availability of cloud condensation nuclei (CCN). The vapors responsible for new particle formation (NPF), potentially leading to CCN, have remained unidentified since the first aerosol measurements in 1991. Here, we report that all the observed NPF events from the Arctic Ocean 2018 expedition are driven by iodic acid with little contribution from sulfuric acid. Iodic acid largely explains the growth of ultrafine particles (UFP) in most events. The iodic acid concentration increases significantly from summer towards autumn, possibly linked to the ocean freeze-up and a seasonal rise in ozone. This leads to a one order of magnitude higher UFP concentration in autumn. Measurements of cloud residuals suggest that particles smaller than 30 nm in diameter can activate as CCN. Therefore, iodine NPF has the potential to influence cloud properties over the Arctic Ocean.