Information about Calima in Spain


What is Calima in Spain?

Calima is a kind of red dust cloud that deposits vast quantities of red powder over the whole of Spain. It usually happens on a few days each year and  is normally much worse in the Canary islands than mainland Spain. In March 2022 there was extemely bad calima. In many parts of Spain the sky turned bright orange and many millions of tons of red powder covered all surfaces. Many beautiful white walled villages became stained with a dark brown color and almost every window, vehicle, teraza, leaf etc was left looking dirty.

What is the translation of Calima?

The word calima is used in English but we can also use haze, Saharan haze, Saharan air layer, mud rain or suspended dust.

What is the Calima made of?

It is mainly dust consisting of quartz (a silicate which is one of the main constituents of sand) , calcium-rich particles,  sulfates (salts of sulfuric acid),  hematite (a type of iron oxide or rust),  soot,  carbonaceous materials.

Where does the Calima come from?

The calima comes from the Sahara desert in North Africa. It is swept up high in to the atmosphere by desert winds.  It is estimated that 50% of the global dust emissions originate  in the Sahara and the dust is carried to many parts of the world including South America. The desert regions of northern Africa are estimated to release about 800 million tons of dust each year.

Is Calima dangerous to the health?

Calima particles can measure less than 10 microns (0.01 micrograms), they can get into your lungs and are small enough to enter the bloodstream.  A short amount of exposure is probably not a problem but  you should avoid prolonged exposure and doing strenuous exercise when there is a lot of dust in the air.  Wearing a mask may help.

Is Calima Radioactive?

Yes, slightly. The French did nuclear tests in Reggane in central Algeria in 1960 which were 3 times as powerful as the bomb dropped on Nagasaki in 1945. It is possible to detect caesium 137  which is  a man-made radioactive isotope which was created during the tests.  The level of radiation deteced in the calima is not considered to be dangerous for human health.  Interestingly, there was no caesium 137 prior to 1942 so it has been used to verify the age of wines and sedimentary deposits. 

Cleaning the calima at patio de los leones Granada

How to clean up after Calima?

If rain is forecast after the red dust has settled it may be a good idea to let the rain wash some of it away because water is precious in Spain and it is best to use as little as possible.  The best way of cleaning the calima  is by blasting it with a jet of water from a hose or from a pressure washer. The most important thing to do is to look at the weather forecasts so that you don't spend a lot of time cleaning up only to have to do it again a few days later.  The filters on air conditioners may need to be cleaned and it may be a good idea not to use air conditioners if the calima is very bad, fine dust particles can get into the moving parts.

How to clean a swimming pool after Calima?

If possible it is best to avoid letting the red substance get into the filter. Add floculant to the pool at half a litre per 50 m3. Switch off the pump.  Give the floculant at least 12 hours to do its work. When the red substance has settled  use the bottom cleaner to clean up the pool. Change the valve on the pump so that it expels the water directly to waste water without going through the filter.