Case Study Profile


Azores Archipelago, Portugal
Small Islands Case Study

Case Study Leader: FC.ID

Type of Climate: Oceanic climate, predominantly temperate and moist, without dry season

Inhabitants per km²: 102

Main economic sectors: Agriculture, Tourism, Water Resources and Energy

Main climatic challenges: Agricultural crop yield decrease and increased irrigation needs change, decreased attractiveness in Tourism, water scarcity due to less water availability and combined water uses and energy power outage due to combined events (climatic and non-climatic)

The Portuguese Autonomous Region of Azores is a set of 9-island archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean, located 1 450 km from mainland Portugal. Its isolated location poses a major challenge. Azores are an EU outermost region, consisting of 3 major groups of islands of volcanic origin, categorised as Eastern, Central and Western. They add up to a total surface area of 2 322 km2, spanning approximately 600 km from East to West.

The archipelago is greatly influenced by the Subtropical Anticyclone of the Atlantic, also known as the Azores High. Seawater temperature has a great importance for the local climate which, according to the Köppen-Geiger Climate Classification, is considered predominantly temperate moist, without a dry season, with precipitation in all months of the year and with temperate summers. The climate in the region can be extreme in terms of precipitation and wind. Episodes of intense and localised precipitation are frequent, particularly in winter periods, with serious implications for runoff regimes. The precipitation of frontal origin is significantly reinforced by precipitation of orographic origin inside each island. Summers are significantly sunnier than the rest of the year. Violent storms of both tropical origin and caused by depression cells from the northern latitudes of the Northwest Atlantic are responsible for numerous episodes of shipwrecks and tragedies on land. Climate change is expected to affect temperature, and precipitation regimes, including meteorological drought, and storm trajectories.

The Azores archipelago is a Portuguese Autonomous Region. Exercising its statute, the region has the mandate to approve the basics of the planning policy for the territory. It has a total of 236.440 inhabitants (2021) and the different islands vary significantly in terms of size and population. The percentage of the active population with higher education in the Azores is 17.8% and lower than the national average of 31.1%. In 2019, 9% of the active population (around 112.400 people) was working in the primary sector (including agriculture). About 74% were employed in the service sector, of which 7% (around 9.000 people) worked in tourism, restaurants, and similar activities. The remaining 17% worked in industry, construction, energy, and water.

From 1986 to 2019, the number of tourists increased tenfold. In 2018, the sector had a GDP of 361 million Euros (9.7% of the regional economy) and a total tourism expenditure of 18.1% of the regional GDP. The region is not considered to be a mass tourism destination when compared to other destinations. In 2019, the tourist intensity was 12 in the Azores, 32 in Madeira, 45 in the Canary Islands and 58 in the Balearic Islands (Spain).

The main two sectors for the Azores case study are Agriculture and Tourism, namely in regard to their water resource use and tourism attractiveness, while upholding decarbonisation goals. Historically, agricultural crops have predominantly been rain-fed, but changes in precipitation patterns have created a need for increased use of irrigation in the future. Specific areas have felt water scarcity issues due to saline intrusion issues along the coastline. Localised effects of water scarcity combined with water use in agriculture and tourism were also observed. Stakeholders are concerned that if water scarcity issues and the need for irrigation will become more widespread, this would create new challenges for the future. Furthermore, precipitation patterns can also fluctuate in the opposite direction. Combined with changes in land use this can induce more frequent and harmful floods than nowadays.

The current policy strategy is to pursue and promote sustainable tourism, including reducing emissions and protecting freshwater resources in the region. Tourist visiting expectations are known to be high and attracted by natural and cultural values, including ecotourism, hiking, whale watching, and gastronomy, among others.

The End-User Community consist of experts in the areas of agriculture, tourism, water management, energy, ecosystem services and the environment. Some of them are affiliated with regional universities. These experts work in close collaboration with policymakers, helping informed decision-making, and have developed local adaptive capacities and an understanding of climate change challenges.

Project RethinkAction has created expectations among Azorean stakeholders. Under climate change, they want to know what are the consequences of inaction, and the expected effects of adaptation and mitigation considering the use of Land-use based Adaptation and Mitigation Solutions (LAMS). They want to ensure adequate economic development while protecting the ecosystems, for future generations. The project will offer a risk analysis and provide recommendations for the use of LAMS. This will be achieved by using a local Systems Dynamics model which includes Agriculture, Tourism, Water Resources and Energy. Stakeholders also expect to have access to detailed information in the project’s platform and be able to try out solutions by themselves, one by one. They want to know if more local food production and consumption could be a competitive and reliable solution, find the appropriate level of animal production, determine future irrigation needs, know about water conservation strategies outcomes and find the impact of land use options in the territory. Conservation and restoration of natural areas are considered relevant for ecosystem service provisioning, which also includes carbon sinking.

Overall, the stakeholders want to know, under climate change, the challenges and systemic interactions of pursuing sustainability values which include having a safe and clean environment, a neutral carbon balance, and socio-economic cohesion across the nine islands and with the Portuguese mainland.

satellite picture of Azores

Image Source:


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