I photograph the plants I find in a bog.

 "There's something magic about it,"

says Jim Murphy. And I’d have to agree. Murphy is a turf user in Kilkishen, Ireland. He burns turf as fuel to heat his home.

What’s turf, you ask? Turf is a material made up of decaying plants. You might know it by a different name: peat. Here in Ireland, peat comes from raised or blanket bogs, which cover 20 percent of the country. I’m Emily Toner, a soil geographer. I study bogs.

A bog is a wetland born of water, plants, and time. It grows slowly. A healthy bog takes a thousand years to grow one meter taller. Peat soil is acidic and rich. If Ireland’s peat soil was left alone for another 250 million years, the layers at the bottom would become coal.

Walking across a bog might be the closest you’ll ever get to “walking on water.” That’s because bogs are more than 90 percent water. Sphagnum mossa plant so essential to bogs it’s called a “bog builder”can hold up to 20 times its weight in water. If you step on a bed of sphagnum, you are walking on an ecosystem that has more water and less solids than a glass of milk.

Bogs hold more than just plants and water. They also absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This is important because it reduces the greenhouse effect on Earth. Let me explain. Certain gases in Earth’s atmosphere, like carbon dioxide, trap heat. Too much of these so‑called “greenhouse gases” cause Earth’s temperatures to rise.

This is a bouquet of bog mosses collected from one bog.

a close-up look at sphagnum moss

Storing Carbon

While wet and healthy, bogs trap carbon and keep it in place. That helps keep Earth’s temperatures steady. That’s why wetlands are called carbon sinks. Around the world, wetlands like bogs store twice the carbon that’s held in trees and forests. That’s incredible!

Bogs are a traditional part of the Irish way of life. Throughout history, people have relied on them for survival. Wild berries and other plants can be harvested for food. Sphagnum moss was once harvested to make bandages for wounds. But by far, the most widely used bog resource has been peat, which is cut into bricks to burn as fuel.

Sadly, Ireland’s bogs are not as widespread as they once were. More than 85 percent of them have shrunk. People drained the soggy soil, and the land is used for other purposes, such as farming.






Where the Bogs Are


0 50 miles 0 50 km