Biosphere 2

Upon discovering that Biosphere 2 was in the same general area of Arizona where my dad lives, my interest was reawakened.  Biosphere 2, for those of you not similarly aware, was an experiment in the early 1990s where eight people sealed themselves in a habitat for two years to see if they could live in a closed system.  This means they “grew” their oxygen and food and recycled their wastes.  I found the project fascinating, though by the time it was over, it had fallen out of favor with the scientific community.  In preparation for my visit, I read the book Dreaming the Biosphere by Rebecca Reider which provided a great context for the project.

My first in-person view of Biosphere 2.

The geodesic dome was a big part of construction.  I believe this used to be the animal habitat.  The library is in the tower and the living quarters (human habitat) are in the second story of this building.
The door to the outside world.  This was sealed shut for two years during the initial mission.
Lemon tree in the orchard.
More of the orchard.  The pathways were installed after the first two missions so tourists could experience the Biosphere from inside.
First look at the ocean.
A view of the rain forest habitat.
After the missions were over, Columbia University took over the operation of Biosphere 2.  Their scientists did many experiments, but to better control their variables, they installed plastic curtains to separate the habitats.  The original Biospherians could look from the rain forest, over the ocean and all the way to the desert habitat.
How the rain forest is so lush.
Another view of the ocean habitat and I believe those are mangroves.
Peeking at the ocean habitat from the Savannah.  The “rocks” were all sculpted from concrete, which became the source of an unforeseen problem during the first mission.
Columbia University, after building ten million dollars worth of student dorms, abandoned Biosphere 2.  Today the University of Arizona runs it.  They say it’s “where science lives” and we saw a lot of experiments, all of which, our tour guide informed us, can be read about on the web site.
More Savannah.
Some of the Arizona sun shining on the Biosphere.  The first mission experienced a below-average amount of sun due to El Nino.  This caused problems with the crops.
A frankincense tree.
More science.  This had to do with bugs and pools of water, I believe.
Peeking out through the windows, you can see the power station for Biosphere 2.
More science.
Looking back at what was the agricultural habitat during the missions and is now the Landscape Evolution Observatory.
Entering the desert habitat.
Overlooking the desert habitat.  This is a coastal desert, like those found in Baja, California.
After touring our way through the habitats, we climbed down stairs to the innards of Biosphere 2.  Here, giant blowers whooshed air around us as we all giggled.  Our tour guide remarked that every group she has delights in air moving over them.
What keeps the ocean habitat running.
After spending time in the habitats, all this machinery seemed strange.
My favorite part was visiting the west lung. Biosphere 2 has two “lungs” which served as places for the air to move to so the structure didn’t either explode or implode as the air expanded in the heat and contracted at night.
Now, because Biosphere 2 isn’t sealed, the lungs aren’t a vital part of the structure. But they are sill fascinating.  Black rubber is attached to a heavy metal disk.  The disk would sink and push the air back into the Biosphere at night when things cooled off.  During the day it would rise as expanding air rushed into the lung.
Geodesic domes protect both lungs, as seen through this window.
Exiting the Biosphere.  More rushing air.
Looking at the desert habitat.
A front view of the former agricultural habitats.
Walking by the power station.
One of the fish in the ocean habitat.
The ocean was murky.  I read that cleaning the algae out of the system was a tedious job during the missions and  I think that the University of Arizona may have given up on that tedious job.
The kitchen in the human habitat.  It had all the modern conveniences.  Each of the crew had their own small apartment with a loft bed, a desk and a couch.  Also in the human habitat were laboratories for experimentation and a library for research.  The library was in the tower and had a 360 degree view.  I was most sorry we couldn’t experience it.

I’m glad I got to see Biosphere 2 in person.  The science being done now is not as interesting to me as the original intent of the structure, but I’m happy someone is paying to maintain it.

2 thoughts on “Biosphere 2”

  1. Looks like your vacation to AZ was most informative. Whenever I think of biospheres all I can picture is the horrid movie with the same name. I didn't see the movie, but it was filmed in the 90's and I can still remember the trailers. Its amazing how Hollywood can turn something pretty amazing into an insipid movie.

  2. I am so jealous! I fantasized about biosphere as young nerd hopeful that such research would prepare us to colonize strange new worlds.

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