Why is the air quality bad in Tenerife? Key reason behind “unfavourable” climate

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Tenerife attracts millions of British tourists each year, with everyone from couples to large families flocking to its sandy beaches and pool-side resorts. While this popular spot in the Canaries is known for clear blue skies and warm weather, the windy island has surprisingly low air quality. The global real-time weather app Accuweather has recorded “poor” air quality in Tenerife in recent days, but why is it so bad? Is it safe to visit?

Why is the air quality bad in Tenerife?

Just days ago the UK saw the sky turn orange when the remnants of a Saharan dust storm swept across Europe.

Hazy and colourful hues were spotted among clouds above Southern parts of England, including the country’s capital city, London.

According to the Met Office, the dust clouds which originate from the North African desert usually reach the UK several times a year, but it can happen far more often for countries closer to the continent.

Tenerife enjoys a unique climate thanks to its close proximity to Africa and trade winds (winds that reliably blow east to west just north and south of the equator) that surround the humid island.

While the favourable canary climate is enjoyed by sun-seeking travellers, the nearby Sahara desert can have less-enjoyable effects on the air quality in Tenerife and other nearby islands.

John Lumb, Director at Evotech Air Quality said: “Tenerife being a small island usually enjoys a welcoming sea breeze and relatively low air pollution, however, being close to Africa the island can sometimes be subjected to dust storms or simooms from the Sahara.”

Earlier this year in January, the air quality in Tenerife was deemed “extremely unfavourable” by the Canary Islands Government due to the presence of suspended dust.

What is this dust known as?

Calima, also known as haze, describes the effect of sand or dust when it is suspended in the atmosphere.

Given the Canary Islands’ proximity to northwestern Africa (Fuerteventura is only 100km from the Moroccan coastline), the Atlantic archipelago experiences by far the most common episodes of calima across Spain.

When the remnants of dust blast through the island, it can have a number of effects on both the landscape and population.

These include:

  • Reduced or poor visibility
  • Yellow, orange or red hues in the sky
  • Dry air
  • Stifling air
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Layers of dust covering cars, windows and other surfaces

Most calima or Saharan haze episodes last for between three and five days.

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Is it safe to visit Tenerife?

According to the real-time global weather app, Accuweather, a “fair” air quality rating means that: “The air quality is generally acceptable for most individuals.

“However, sensitive groups may experience minor to moderate symptoms from long-term exposure.”

The impact on the population of Tenerife can be much worse when the status reaches “poor”, which means: “The air has reached a high level of pollution and is unhealthy for sensitive groups.”

When the rating measures between 50-59 AQI, public health advises that people should “Reduce time spent outside” if symptoms such as difficulty breathing or throat irritation occur.

What is the air quality like right now in Tenerife?

Following the latest blast of Saharan dust, the air quality is measuring “very high” across Tenerife and its neighbouring Canary Islands, according to the quality tool, Breezometer.
The software has measured PM10 as the dominant pollutant, but what exactly is it?

IQAir states: “PM10 is any particulate matter in the air with a diameter of 10 micrometres or less, including smoke, dust, soot, salts, acids, and metals.”

When levels measure this high, the general advice to the public is to:

  • Avoid intense activities outdoors
  • Stay away from busy roads, construction sites, open fires and other sources of smoke
  • Stay indoors with an activated air filtration system

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