By Devon Umstead
What do microscopic organisms in the ocean, a chemical found in household salt, and climate change have to do with each other?
In the open ocean, far away from land, lives an extremely small organism called Prochlorococcus. Prochlorococcus is believed to be the most abundant organism on earth, and inhabits areas that are normally considered barren. This organism is special in that it produces a lot of a compound called Methyl Iodine (or Iodomethane). What is distinct about Methyl Iodine is that it can serve as the nuclei for cloud formation, effectively acting as a cloud seeding agent.
Clouds reflect light into space, thus cooling earth. According to the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, cloud cover is potentially the largest mitigating factor of climate change. Since Methyl Iodine is shown to increase cloud levels, Prochlorococcus has an imperative role in global climate balance. Therefore, Prochlorococcus can be a savior from climate change
Iodine has another atmospheric impact: it can destroy ozone. The ozone hole is a well-documented and commonly reported story. Iodine, like its sister element Chlorine, can degrade and destroy ozone, both in the ozone layer (very high above the earth’s surface) and in the lower atmosphere. Ozone acts like a sunscreen to earth, so depletion by Iodine is dangerous. Fortunately, Iodine has trouble reaching all the way to the ozone layer and is a very minor contributor to ozone layer removal.
Methyl Iodine’s importance to the global climate is not completely understood, and with such a huge potential for mitigating climate change, methyl iodine cannot be ignored as a major variable in the climate equation.