‘Twit­ters from the At­lantic'

Q Magazine - - Q Travel -

Bar­rie Ma­honey was a head teacher and school in­spec­tor in the UK, as well as a re­porter in Spain, be­fore mov­ing to the Ca­nary Is­lands to launch and edit a new English lan­guage news­pa­per. He en­joys life in the sun as a colum­nist and author, and con­tin­ues to write a series of pop­u­lar nov­els and books for ex­pats.

Cal­ima - Gone With the Wind Ex­pats in Spain and the Ca­nary Is­lands will of­ten hear the words “Oh, it's just a cal­ima” trot­ted out when­ever it is a lit­tle cloudy or there is an­noy­ing dust in the air. In re­al­ity, it is not quite as sim­ple as that, and the true cal­ima is some­thing to be cel­e­brated, as well as to curse, par­tic­u­larly if you suf­fer from breath­ing con­di­tions and res­pi­ra­tory al­ler­gies.

In the Ca­nary Is­lands, the cal­ima is of­ten re­ferred to as “Bruma Seca”, which is “Dry Fog”. It ap­pears for up to ten times each year for a day or two, but in the worst cases, can be present for a week, or even longer. Peo­ple with res­pi­ra­tory prob­lems and al­ler­gies of­ten suf­fer con­sid­er­ably dur­ing th­ese pe­ri­ods. It is a time when sen­si­ble peo­ple try to stay in­doors or wear a face mask when go­ing out­side for any length of time if they suf­fer from breath­ing con­di­tions.

Cal­i­mas are usu­ally, but not al­ways, ac­com­pa­nied by very hot winds, and hu­mid­ity lev­els in­crease. Res­i­dents are plagued with red­dish dust on their pa­tios and cars, which also invades every crevice of their homes. A cal­ima oc­curs when dust from the Sa­hara Desert is dragged across land­mass by strong winds. Dust can re­main sus­pended for hours and even days; vis­i­bil­ity is re­duced and the air be­comes cloudy as a re­sult of the dust.

The Ca­nary Is­lands are of­ten re­garded as hav­ing the “best cli­mate in the world”, but we are not im­mune from the dev­as­tat­ing ef­fects of cal­i­mas. The in­ten­sity of heat on the is­lands in­creases res­pi­ra­tory prob­lems and al­ler­gies, as well as gen­eral oral health. The tiny par­ti­cles of dust gen­er­ated ir­ri­tates the mu­cous mem­branes, which can have se­ri­ous im­pli­ca­tions for oral health. Of­ten, as a re­sult of tak­ing an­ti­his­tamines to con­trol al­ler­gies, the im­mune sys­tem fills the hol­lows of our head with mu­cus. The cav­i­ties that are lo­cated above the mouth cause pain and greater sen­si­tiv­ity to cold and heat when filled with mu­cus, be­cause of in­creased pres­sure upon the up­per teeth.

Cal­i­mas are not all bad, since the Cen­tral Sa­hara was a lake in pre­his­toric times. The dry sand con­tains fer­tile re­mains of its once rich, or­ganic par­ti­cles. Th­ese ni­tro­gen-rich com­po­nents within a cal­ima help to fer­tilise the At­lantic Ocean by pro­mot­ing the growth of phy­to­plank­ton, which forms the ba­sis of the food chain that al­lows all sea crea­tures to sur­vive and thrive. Cli­mate change sci­en­tists be­lieve that the green­house ef­fect is min­imised, be­cause the sea's mi­cro-or­gan­isms ab­sorb harm­ful car­bon diox­ide from the at­mos­phere. In other words, the more phy­to­plank­ton in the sea, the less car­bon diox­ide in the air. How­ever, it is a del­i­cate balance and too much dust in the At­lantic could cre­ate too much plank­ton and ar­eas of low oxy­gen, which is not so good.

Ac­cord­ing to re­searchers, cal­ima dust from the Sa­hara also helps to feed plants in the Ama­zon, since it acts as a fer­tiliser, which helps the rain for­est to grow and thrive. There are also other com­plex in­ter­ac­tions link­ing cal­i­mas to events that we do not yet fully un­der­stand. Some stud­ies claim that the dam­age of hur­ri­canes is re­duced due to the ef­fect of cal­i­mas cool­ing the wa­ter tem­per­a­ture that is needed for hur­ri­canes to build. Around one third of the nat­u­ral soils that make up the Ca­nary Is­lands are based upon Sa­ha­ran dust that has dropped on the is­lands over mil­len­nia. The rich, fer­tile soils on th­ese is­lands have been en­riched through the ef­fects of the cal­ima.

Many suf­fer from the health ef­fects of the cal­ima, or com­plain about the dust that has landed on their pa­tios and cars. Maybe we should in­stead be grate­ful that it is feed­ing the lus­cious plants in the Ama­zon rain for­est, fer­til­is­ing the At­lantic Ocean for sea crea­tures to sur­vive, as well as re­duc­ing the green­house ef­fect that has such se­ri­ous im­pli­ca­tions for us all.

If you en­joyed this ar­ti­cle, take a look at Bar­rie's web­sites: http://bar­riema­honey.com and http://theca­nary­is­lander.com or read his lat­est book, ‘Liv­ing in Spain and the Ca­nary Is­lands' (ISBN: 9780995602724). Avail­able in pa­per­back, as well as Kin­dle edi­tions. Join him on Face­book: www.face­book.com/bar­rie.ma­honey

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