The aim of this research is to evaluate and document the climatic impacts facing the Azores Islands, how the community is exposed to specific climatic risks, and what makes them vulnerable.  This page will summarize relevant reports and journals around climate change, global sea-level rise, and the future and present impacts that this specific region is presently and continually facing.

Introduction to the Azores Islands

The Archipelago of Azores is an autonomous island region off of Portugal, composed of nine islands that are identified by their unstable volcanic features and earthquakes, relatively low topographical features, and their wet and moderate climate.  As of 2015, the population consists of 245,766 inhabitants (Abecasis et al., 2013; Encyclopedia Britannica, 2018; Azevedo, 2017).  Their economic and labor market consists of many different sectors, however those that are dependent on natural resources for viability are wholesale and retail trade, transport, agricultural dairy farming, fisheries, and tourism (Azevedo, 2017).  These economic sectors represent 26,400 of their 103,500 employed inhabitants as of 2015, roughly one quarter of their economy (Azevedo, 2017).  These sectors are increasing in popularity due to people taking advantage of the unique ecosystem, landscape, and biodiversity that surrounds them and adapting to new livelihoods for their strategic cultural and economic gains (Azevedo, 2017).

Map of Azores Islands


The Azores Islands- What You Need to Know

Climate Change Impacts in Europe

Europe is being impacted by glacial retreat, colonization and invasion of foreign plant species, an increase in forest fires, a northward distributional shift of aquatic species and seabirds, and an expansion of warm water species in to the Mediterranean ocean.  Of these climatic impacts, sea-level rises poses one of largest threats toward Europe.  The ocean’s circulation is driven by the salinity of our oceans due to the weight of salt water in comparison to fresh water, thus influencing a vertical movement of water to sink and drive the oceanic currents towards the North Atlantic.  However, with the increased melting of snow and ice in the arctic due to an increase in greenhouse gases, temperature increase, and the albedo effect, there has been an influx of freshwater altering the circulation of the ocean which has the ability to alter the temperature of Europe to be one of cooler temperatures.


Specifically for the Azores Islands, extreme weather events and an increase in atmospheric temperatures create ecological discontinuities along with altering species habitats and their ecological niches that they can survive and adapt in.  Through the removal and extinction of certain marine and aquatic species this creates another positive feedback loop that decreases the ocean’s productivity, alters the dynamic of the food web, and increases vulnerability to disease (Hughes, 2000; Harley et al., 2006; Hoegh-Guldberg et al., 2010).  With an increase in extreme weather events, and a decrease in reliable water sources this as well poses a direct impact and threat to agriculture.  As a small island, agriculture provides a viable livelihood as well as a predominant economic sector.  Furthermore, it provides independence from mainland Portugal and other support through food imports if they are able to produce and provide food security for themselves, considering their statue as a autonomous region (Azevedo, 2013).


Considering their use of natural resources as a way to employ just over a quarter of their population, this increases their vulnerability and sensitivity to the hazardous impacts of climate change (Azevedo, 2017; Abecasis et al., 2013).  The stakeholders now become those at stake. A few of the climate change impacts that this region are facing are an increase in higher atmospheric temperatures, reduced rainfall and depletion of reliable water sources, extreme weather events, and sea-level rise (Sauter et al., 2013; IPCC, 2014; Tobeña et al., 2016; Simmonds et al., 2017; Vermeer et al., 2009). Overall, these impacts will affect the biodiversity in their marine and coastal ecosystems, impact the tourism industry and the agriculture and fishery industry, all the meanwhile affecting their societies secure and reliable access to water, food, and energy, something that is limited and challenging as a small island community (Sauter et al., 2013).

Burning Embers Diagram 

Climate Change and Food Security

Dairy Farming: A Prominent Economic Sector

Portuguese American Journal

Sensitivity + Vulnerability

The objectives that consider the Azores Islands to be apart of Europe's outermost region such as their economic and geological isolation and relatively small size further increases their sensitivity and vulnerability to the impacts and hazards of climate change (Azevedo, 2013).  Roughly one quarter of their society is dependent on different portions of their local natural resources in order to achieve economic viability along (Azevedo, 2013).  Similarly, majority of the population is dependent on their resources for independence from Portugal and Europe, along with achieving cultural and societal gains (Santos et al., 2013; Abecasis, 2013).  With the correlation of greenhouse gases increasing global temperatures, climate change has a disproportionate effect on different societies globally.  The Azores Islands and other small island societies are one of many that will face disproportionate impacts due to their geographical location and economic reliance on natural resources that are at stake.

Adaptation Strategy

Taking into consideration that stature of the Azores Islands as an autonomous region apart of Portugal, they have they authority and ability to partake in both their regional and national adaptation plan (Center for Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Changes, 2015).  This is especially important given their remoteness and vulnerability as an archipelago of small island regions.  The Azores are apart of the few outermost regions of Europe that are recognized in their commission and adaptation report as having taken action to implement adaptation and resilience strategies that revolve around improving the resilience of crucial forms of infrastructure, protecting biodiversity, and evolving climate based knowledge for future adaptation measures (European Commission, 2014). 

Local Approaches

Locally, in 2011 the Azores approved their climate change adaptation strategy focusing on coastal zone management, water management, energy, biodiversity, fisheries, agriculture, and infrastructure revealing around the main economic sectors such as agriculture and forestry, tourism, transportation, health, industry, and forms of communication (European Commission, 2014).  Not only will the development of these infrastructures improve their resilience to the impacts of climate change but it will also be another way to introduce a prominent economic sector for the local community.

Moving Forward

Moving forward the Azores Islands along with Portugal, are working to produce funding to develop adequate infrastructure, create programs to measure and implement adaptation approaches, estimate greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, and establish climatic scenarios for this region in 2050 (Center for Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Changes, 2015). As well, it is important to note that with any form of adaptation measures the local voice and knowledge must be accounted for, and efforts must be pursued and driven by the local community with their best interest in mind to eliminate the chances of neo-imperialism. 

Community Based Adaptation 

We Adapt

About the Author

Emily Hoffman graduated from St. Lawrence University in 2018 with a combined major in Environmental Studies and Sociology and a minor in Studio Art.  In her studies, she focused on how humans interact in the natural world and how the effects of climate change are constantly evolving this relationship.  Incorporating her minor in studio art, Emily is a passionate photographer working to use this medium to document the interactions of all living things focusing on spreading the stories and knowledge of those who work directly with the land and are experiencing the dramatic changes to our environment.

Photograph by Amber Dindorf

Works Cited

Abecasis, R., Schmidt, L., Longnecker, N., Clifton, J. “Implications of community and stakeholder perceptions of the marine environment and its conservation for MPA management in a small Azorean Island.” Ocean & Coastal Management vol 83 (2013): pp. 208-219. 

Anderegg,  et al. “Expert Credibility in Climate Change.” PNAS, vol. 107, no. 27, 6 July 2010, pp. 12107–12109., .

Arctic Council. “Arctic Resilience Interim Report 2013.” Stockholm Environment Institute (2013): pp. 37-64.

Arctic Climate Impact Assessment. Impacts of a Warming Arctic. Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Azevedo, Filipa. “Research for REGI Committee: The economic, social and territorial situation of the Azores (Portugal).” DG IPOL Policy Department for Structural and Cohesion Policies. (2017): pp. 1-17.

Betzold, Carola. “Adapting to climate change in small island developing states.” Climatic Change, vol. 133, no. 3, December 2015, pp. 481-489. 

Center for Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Changes. “PRAC – REGIONAL PLAN FOR CLIMATE CHANGE OF AZORES.” PRAC – REGIONAL PLAN FOR CLIMATE CHANGE OF AZORES - Projects - CE3C, Center for Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Changes, 2015,

Cook, J., Oreskes, N., Doran, P., Anderegg, W., Verheggen, B., Maibach, Ed., Carlton, J. Lewandowsky, S., Skuce, A., Green, S. “Consensus on consensus: a synthesis of consensus estimates on human-caused global warming.” Environmental Research Letters Vol. 11. No. 4 (2016): pp. 1-7. doi:10.1088/1748-9326/11/4/048002

European Commission. “The Economic Impact of Climate Change and Adaptation in the Outermost Regions.” European Commission, May 2014,

Harley,C., Hughes, A., Hultgren, K., MIner, B., Sorte, C., Thornber, C., Rodriguez, L., Tomanek, L., Williams, S. “The impacts of climate change in coastal marine ecosystems.” Ecology Letters. Vol. 9 no. 2 (2006): pp. 228-241.

Hoegh-Guldberg, O and Bruno, John F. “The Impact of Climate Change on the World’s Marine Ecosystems” Science. vol. 328 no. 5985 (2010): pp. 1523-1528. DOI: 10.1126/science.1189930

Hughes, Lesley. “Biological consequences of global warming: is the signal already apparent?” Trends in Ecology and Evolution. Vol. 15 no. 2 (2000): pp. 56-61

Iglesias, I., Lorenzo, N., Lázaro., Ferandes, J., Bastos, L. “Sea level anomaly in the North Atlantic and seas around Europe: Long-term variability and response to North Atlantic teleconnection patterns.” Science of the Total Environment. Vol. 609 (2017): pp. 861-874.

Intergovernmental Panal on Climate Change. “Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.“ IPCC (2014) p. 40

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “Technical Summary.” Climate Change 2014 Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability ; Working Group II Contribution to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Cambridge Univ. Press, 2014, pp. 37–94.

Oreskes, Naomi. “BEYOND THE IVORY TOWER: The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change.” Science, vol. 306, no. 5702, 2004, pp. 1686–1686., doi:10.1126/science.1103618.

Rawat, Nidhi, Babu Umesh, Nautiyal, Sunil. “Climate change and sea level rise: A review of studies on low lying and island countries.” Working Papers 359, Institute for Social and Economic Change, 2016. 

Santos, F. D., Valente, M. A, Azevedo, E. B, Tomé, A. R, Coelho, F. “Climate Change Scenarios in the Azores and Madeira Islands.” World Resource Review vol. 16 No. 4.  (2004): pp. 473-490

Sauter, R., Brink, P., Withana, S., Mazza, L., Pondichie, F. “Impacts of climate change on all European islands.” Institute for European Environmental Policy. (2013): pp. Ii-144.

Simmonds, M. and Stephen, I. “The impacts of climate change on marine mammals: early signs of significant problems.” Oryx Vol. 41 No. 1 (2007): pp. 19-26.  

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britanica. “Azores.” Enyclopaedia Britannica. Accessed 1 March 2018.

Tobeña, M., Prieto, R., Machete, M., Silva, M. “Modeling the Potential Distribution and Richness of Cetaceans in the Azores from Fisheries Observer Program Data.” frontiers in Marine Science: Deep-Sea Environments and Ecology. Vol. 3. No. 232 (2016): pp. 1-19

Vermeer, M. and Rahmstorf, S. “Global sea level linked to global temperature.” PNAS. vol. 106 No. 51 (2009): pp. 21527-21532. www.pnas.orgcgidoi10.1073pnas.0907765106