Saturday, January 30, 2016

Biosphere 2

Not far from Tucson is an amazing structure that I remember learning about in the 90s. Biosphere 2 was built with private funds as a closed, 3.14 acre building to study the "web of interactions within life systems".

[From Craig] So you walk into this place, and there's a little round structure like a Midwest water tower, but there's no sphere! The "sphere" in the name comes from looking at the Earth as "Biosphere 1", and they tried to build a miniature version of the Earth to find ways to help the Earth survive and improve.  Instead of a sphere the big structure is a flat-topped pyramid, kind of like the Incas and Aztecs built.  And once you get over the lack of a sphere, it's a very interesting place...

In September of 1991, eight "crew" members entered Biosphere 2 to live for two years. They did have a few problems, but these were not considered failures of the experiment. Rather they were considered accumulation of enormous amounts of information and experience that might someday be used in space or on another planet. There also was a second, much shorter, closed experiment. 

There were five biomes, plus an agricultural area and a human habitat. 

On the tour we saw several of them:  

The plants and trees in the Rainforest biome have grown much larger than when the closed experiments where going on. 

Some of the plants in the Desert biome died out because there was more water from unexpected condensation that developed on the glass walls and ceiling.

The Ocean was neat: small but neat. The coral reef that had been included died because they wanted to see if coral could adapt to slowly increasing temperatures.  It couldn't, as has occurred many times since in the real oceans.

We also saw the Savannah, which now has more trees and less grass than it did in the 90's, and the Mangrove wetland. 

The area that had been the "farm" or agricultural biome has been transformed to house a huge experiment to study how water moves through the desert.  The kind of work you'd expect from the U of Arizona, which now owns and runs the place.

After the second closed experiment, the place fell into limbo when the company that had been formed to build it dissolved. It was first purchased and operated by Columbia University, and later was purchased and donated to the U of Arizona, which uses it for research and runs the public tours.

We are very glad we had the opportunity to see this remarkable place and learn about its history.

In the 90s I remember wondering what it would be like living  in a closed system with seven other people for two years. But here I am, living in a small space, 24/7, with one other person. We have done quite well for over two years! The Biosphere 2 is huge by comparison, but I don't think I could do it without a Trader Joe's.


  1. It's a very interesting place isn't it, we really enjoyed our visit a couple of years ago. Have fun!

  2. Thanks for revisiting this wonderful place for us again,

  3. Thanks for the tour sounds quite interesting.

  4. Interesting about too much moisture in the desert biome.

  5. I saw the Biosphere in 1992. Nice to see an update. The other big difference is that you can leave your "sphere" Alpha and enjoy the outdoors with your other half.

  6. An interesting experiment. I wonder how much the biome is affected by the in and out of so many tourists and all their hot air.

    1. There was a question on the way in, whether either of us had ever run for political office :-)

  7. A place that many of us remember from the news in the early 90's. We took the tour a few years ago, interesting place to visit.

  8. We found it fascinating! I loved all of it. So interesting hearing about it as a kid I loved seeing it in person. You're on the path we did last year, Bisby, Tombstone, etc.


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