The VAPOR project was funded by the Environmental Protection Agency f to investigate the likely vulnerability of peatlands in Ireland to climate change (both gradual and extreme events) in the context of current land use changes and management. Understanding vulnerability is central to identifying adaptation needs and contributes to adaptation planning.
Research 250: Vulnerability Assessment of Peatlands: Exploration of Impacts and Adaptation Options in Relation to Climate Change and Extreme Events (VAPOR)
Authors: Florence Renou-Wilson and David Wilson
Summary: The climate changes predicted for Ireland by the end of the 21st century will have significant impacts on drained, rewetted and natural peatland systems. The VAPOR project was established to inform a transition to a climate-resilient Ireland by providing science-based information on the vulnerability of peatlands to climate change, including extreme weather events.
Irish peatlands provide valuable international and regional ecosystem services (carbon storage, water storage and biodiversity). Inappropriate land use management or failure to act to protect these ecosystems against future climate changes will lead to large-scale degradation with major environmental and social impacts.
On the other hand, appropriate management decisions can generate multiple benefits including increased resilience to future climate change. Peatlands have played an important role in climate regulation over the past 10,000 years. Undisturbed peatlands in Ireland are currently a small carbon sink (absorbing CO2 while emitting CH4) but represent less than 20% of the current national resource9. Anthropogenic disturbances, mainly in the form of drainage (for agriculture and forestry) and peat extraction results in increased CO2 and nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions, and reduced CH4 emissions.
Both undisturbed and damaged ecosystems will face increases in the severity and frequency of climate-mediated disturbances: both gradual changes (in temperature, in the amount, intensity and seasonal distribution of rainfall) and extreme events (severe drought, increased wildfires as well as flooding events). These changes will have significant impacts on the ecosystem functions of the peatland namely: carbon store, hydrology and biodiversity, placing the future security of these valuable ecosystem services in jeopardy, as well as affecting other downstream natural systems.
The VAPOR research project aims at improving our understanding of the links between climate, hydrology, ecology and GHG dynamics and will enable the vulnerability of peatlands to climate change and extreme events to be assessed and will also provide tools to determine how these important ecosystems are likely to respond to climate changes in the decades ahead.