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Characteristics and uses

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Peat is soft and easily compressed. Under pressure, water in the peat is forced out. Upon drying, peat can be used as fuel. It has industrial importance as a fuel in some countries, such as Ireland and Finland, where it is harvested on an industrial scale.

In many countries, including Ireland and Scotland, where trees are often scarce, peat is traditionally used for cooking and domestic heating. Stacks of drying peat dug from the bogs can still be seen in some rural areas. Peat's insulating properties make it of use to industry.

Although peat has many uses for humans, it also presents severe problems at times. Wet or dry, it can be a major fire hazard, as peat fires can burn almost indefinitely (or at least until the fuel is exhausted). Peat fires can even burn underground, reigniting after the winter, provided a source of oxygen is present. Peat deposits also pose major difficulties to builders of structures, roads, and railways, as they are highly compressible under even small loads. When the West Highland Line was built across Rannoch Moor, in western Scotland, its builders had to float the tracks on a mattress of tree roots, brushwood, and thousands of tons of earth and ashes.

Peat bogs had considerable ritual significance to Bronze Age and Iron Age peoples, who considered them to be home to (or at least associated with), nature gods or spirits. The bodies of the victims of ritual sacrifices have been found in a number of locations in Scotland, England, Ireland, and especially northern Germany and Denmark, almost perfectly preserved by the tanning properties of the acidic water. (See Tollund Man for one of the most famous examples of a bog body). Peat wetlands formerly had a degree of metallurgical importance, as well. During the Dark Ages, peat bogs were the primary source of bog iron, used to create the swords and armour of the Vikings. Many peat swamps along the coast of Malaysia serve as a natural means of flood mitigation. The peat swamps serve like a natural form of water catchment whereby any overflow will be absorbed by the peat. However, this is effective only if the forests are still present, since they prevent peat fires.

In Scotland. In Ireland. In England. In Finland. In Russia. Use in agriculture. Freshwater aquaria. Water filtration. Balneotherapy. Peat archives. Peat hags.