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Irish Bogs: Science, Politics, and Culture

July 20 2018

Irish bogs contain many things--artifacts of the past, gorgeous green mosses, and an incredible amount of carbon. That carbon is why Irish bogs have come front and center in the Irish and European climate change conversations.

As a Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellow, I am headed to Ireland for a year to bring a soil geographer's eye to carbon-rich bogs. This project explores the changing Irish relationship to peatland, including stories about the science, politics and culture of bogs.

July 20 2018


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Preparation Stage

I arrived! I touched down on Irish soil one week ago. Here on Open Explorer, you choose whether a post is considered in the “preparation stage” or “mission underway,” which left me with a question:

Where does preparation end and the expedition begin?

When exploring meant boarding a ship and sailing away from home for several months, or mounting a horse and riding into unknown territory, preparation may have ended as you left home. That might have been the point after which, you were simply using supplies, not continuing to add to them. I remember feeling like an explorer of centuries past when I boarded my first transatlantic flight to study abroad in Dublin in 2007. I thought that I needed everything in my suitcase that I was to use while I was there. But, it turns out, you can get almost everything you need once you arrive in Ireland. So, “preparing” is just a matter of deciding what you’d like to carry with you and why.

All of this to say, preparation continues on this side of the Atlantic Ocean now that I am here in Ireland. My first week was spent gathering all of the new cards I will need here.


My top new cards include:

  • SIM card--I am the proud owner of an Irish phone number.
  • Leap card--the faster, cheaper way to pay for public transportation in Dublin.
  • University College Dublin ID card--I was surprised to see them print my visiting student ID with they photo they had on file from 2007.
  • Business cards--designed and ordered, looking forward to their arrival this week.
  • Dublin public library card--I’m not sure how much I will need this, but I have a love of libraries and consider every new library card in my wallet to be a stamp in my intellectual passport.

I leave for Ireland in one week and one of the big questions I keep asking myself is: how are you going to transport yourself to all of the bogs and people that you want to learn about?

This project will wind into very rural places. I want to find myself on unmarked roads leading to lesser known bogs and easing down narrow driveways for tea with the families whose histories are linked to those places. So, a car will be a key tool while I’m there. A lot of the logistics for a car will happen in Ireland--acquiring one, insuring it, getting comfortable with the rules of the road. Taking a step in that direction, I was able to extend my Indiana driver’s license to an “International Driving Permit” through AAA. alt

The stories I will research also tie directly into the policymaking, research and the energy industry, all of which will have a strong presence centered in Dublin. I want to be able to visit my affiliate, University College Dublin, and academic host professor Florence Renou-Wilson. Staying connected to the urban hub of Ireland also seems important, which I would rather do via train than car. So, as I think about where to live, I want to it be on a main rail line, where I can use one of these stations. alt

As someone who also likes to get around via bicycle, I have also been researching how to check my road bike in as luggage for my flight. I think it will involve a small amount of disassembly and copious amount of plastic wrapping.

While I am in the preparation stage of my expedition, I am making decisions to provision for the trip while also trying to leave as much flexibility for things to unfold organically while I am in Ireland. Preparing for transportation is a good example of my strategy: prepare in a way that leaves as many options open as possible.

Expedition Background

My name is Emily Toner. I am a 2018-2019 Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellow and I am traveling to Ireland to share stories about the science, politics and culture of peat bogs.

Peat bogs are environmentally and culturally rich spaces. Though covering only 3% of land globally, peatlands hold 25% of the world’s soil carbon. That is the carbon equivalent of half the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, or three times the amount of carbon stored in tropical rainforests. While in the ground, peat soil is a stable carbon reservoir. However, like many carbon-rich natural resources, countries harvest and burn peat as fuel, releasing its carbon back into our increasingly saturated atmosphere.

Peat bogs cover 20% of Ireland and hold an iconic place in Ireland's collective identity. Bogs are also important for Ireland's energy economy because they offer a carbon-rich soil the Irish have burned as fuel for centuries. Burning peat was recently banned by the European Union and Irish government as strategy to mitigate climate change. This project explores the changing Irish relationship to peatland, including stories about the science, politics and culture of Irish bogs.

Image: Two men stacking blocks of peat soil in Ireland in the 1880s, a traditional way to dry the soil before burning in stoves and heaters. Credit: National Library of Ireland.