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Pollen Analysis of peat samples from Connemara National Park, Letterfrack, County Galway

Pollen Analysis of peat samples from Connemara National Park, Letterfrack, County Galway

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Sarah O'Loughlin Irwin. Originally submitted for Paleoecology at National University of Ireland Galway, with lecturer Michael O'Connell in the category of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Sarah O'Loughlin Irwin. Originally submitted for Paleoecology at National University of Ireland Galway, with lecturer Michael O'Connell in the category of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 29, 2012
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10/27/2013

 
Pollen Analysis of peat samples from Connemara NationalPark, Letterfrack, County Galway
 
Introduction
A four-week Paleoecology course was taught with an emphasis on pollen analysis for thepurpose of interpreting past climate, specifically in relation to blanket bog formation inthe Connemara National Park in County Galway, Ireland. A field visit to the area wasconducted with the purpose of collecting peat samples (monoliths) for the analysis of pollen and spores in the laboratory under the microscope. The class was divided up forthe anaysis of pollen grains from different stratigraphical layers and results were collatedinto a table. These results were compared with data previously analysed by ProfessorMichael O’Connell (who ran the lecture course and labs), and others, from the samesamples as well as from samples taken at another site within the National Park. This is areport of the findings of the above study.
 
Site Description
Connemara National Park is located in the west of County Galway, near Letterfack. Itcovers an area of 2,957 hectares encompassing grasslands, heaths, blanket bog, andmountains. The sampling site is within the National Park in an area of lowland blanketbog, with the Owengarve River flowing through it (Grid ref. L7157). The bedrock in thispart of Connemara is mainly metamorphic schist in the lowlands, the Twelve Bens andMaumturk mountains are composed of weather-resistant quartzite, and to the south (fromRoundstone to west of Galway city) the bedrock is composed mainly of igneous granite.These are all parent materials for acidic soils. There is little glacial drift to be found inthis region (O’Connell 1994) so the bedrock has strongly influenced soil formation.Connemara has an oceanic climate, with >1200mm rainfall per annum and >200 raindays annually (Met Eireann, 2009). The present-day vegetation is composed of various
Sphagnum
species,
Calluna vulgaris, Eriophorum angustifolia, Molinia caerulia, Ericatetralix, Potentilla erecta, Juncus spp.
and
Schoenus nigricans.
The environmental conditions of the region are conducive to the formation of blanket bog given the combination of high rainfall, and thus high leaching in the soils,and acidic soil-forming rocks. Typically in areas of blanket bog there has beenpodzolisation of the soil, whereby minerals have been leached out of the upper surfacelayer (A horizon) to the lower layer (B horizon), which has lead to the formation of animpermeable iron pan layer. However samples taken at this site have little iron pan andwaterlogging is mainly due to a charcoal-rich deposition at the start of the peat formation(O’Connell 1990). The anaerobic conditions within the bog provide an ideal record of vegetation history as all pollen and spores that have landed on the bog surface in the pastwill have been preserved. The monolith FRKIV was taken from an exposure, caused bystream erosion, on the western bank of the Owengarve River.

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