This year, the Canary Islands will count with an Air Quality Laboratory to study aerosols and desert dust clouds, according to the agreement signed between the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) and the Regional Ministry of Ecological Transition, the Fight against Climate Change and Territorial Planning. This project will require funding of 2.6 million euros.
The sample analysis infrastructure will be located in the facilities of the Institute of Natural Products and Agrobiology (IPNA-CSIC) of La Laguna, while the monitoring stations will be placed at strategic points around the archipelago.
Air quality has become a global concern, affecting health, ecosystems and climate. Ambient (outdoor) air pollution causes 300,000 deaths in Europe and four million deaths worldwide each year, mainly due to respiratory, cardiovascular and cancer diseases. Aerosols or airborne particles are the pollutant that causes the highest number of deaths.
The scientific head of the Canary Islands Air Quality Laboratory and IPNA-CSIC researcher, Sergio Rodríguez, explained that it will make it possible to “find out the origin and chemical composition” of the particles that are breathed in the archipelago. “It will quantify how much emissions from cars, ships, industrial production and desert dust haze contribute to the levels of PM10 and PM2.5 particles in the ambient air of the Canary Islands.
In addition, it will determine how much of this pollution originates in the Canary Islands and how much comes from surrounding regions, as the desert dust haze is mixed with pollutants (sulphate, organic aerosols and a cocktail of metals, among others) emitted by industry in North Africa, Rodríguez said.
Climate variability and climate change are influencing the general circulation of the atmosphere, and therefore the patterns and intensity of Saharan desert dust events. “The Canary Islands is the region in the European Union with the highest levels of suspended particles, and it is not due to local pollution, hence the need for this infrastructure,” he said.
Desert dust calimas will be one of the main objects of study, as the variability of the composition of desert dust and other aerosols arriving in the Canary Islands will be studied. In recent years, the Islands have been affected by extreme atmospheric phenomena (2002, 2020, 2022 and February 2023), when extremely high concentrations of PM10 particles have been reached, with daily average values of more than 1,800 micrograms/m3, concentrations much higher than the 45 µg/m3 recommended by the WHO as a maximum limit.
The infrastructure will also be able to analyse the aerosols emitted in future volcanic eruptions, providing a rapid response to air quality crises such as the one experience on the island of La Palma in the wake of the volcano eruption.