Biosphere 2 lives on
Biosphere 2 lives on
June 27, 2007
The ill-fated Biosphere II project, an experiment that attempted to re-create Earth’s ecosystems inside a greenhouse in the early 1990s, will live on as a scientific laboratory after the University of Arizona (UA) said it would develop the facility into a research center.
“UA will develop Biosphere 2 into a center for research, outreach, teaching and life-long learning about Earth, its living systems and its place in the universe,” said Joaquin Ruiz, dean of UA’s College of Science. “The facilities and resources at this new campus will be an inspiring place for researchers to gather and to tackle problems that science and society will face now and in the future.
“At Biosphere 2, we will address not only the problems of our current condition, but also those of the 22nd century that are still below the horizon.”
Courtesy of b2science.com
Researchers will use the 3.14 acre (1.27 hectare) controlled-environment facility for experiments on subjects ranging from global warming to interactions between plants and the atmosphere.
“As a research facility, Biosphere 2 is unique in its spatial scale. The facility provides us a bridge between our small-scale, controlled, laboratory-based understandings of earth processes and experiments in field settings where we cannot control all environmental conditions. Biosphere 2’s size allows us to do controlled experimentation at an unprecedented scale,” said UA Associate Professor of ecology and evolutionary biology Travis E. Huxman, who directs B2 Institute’s Earthscience program.
“A unique aspect of this facility is its ability to support experiments that will provide us the missing link between laboratory and real world.”
Built in early 1990 at a cost of $200 million in the desert of Arizona, Biosphere II was an elaborate experiment to see if man could recreate a miniature Earth using technology based on our best understanding of biological systems. The 3.14 acre enclosure was stocked with soil, air, water, and fragments of various ecosystems (coral reef, desert, wetland, savanna, pond, scrubland, ocean, and rainforest) including natural flora and fauna. On Sept. 26, 1991, eight scientists sealed themselves into the compound for a two-year stay. Within five months the atmospheric oxygen content of Biosphere II dropped from 21 percent to 14 percent, while carbon-dioxide and nitrous-oxide levels rose dangerously despite a sophisticated recycling system. Oxygen had to be pumped in to sustain Biosphere II. The scientists managed to stay in Biosphere II the full two years; however the other residents were not so lucky. By the time the seal was broken, 19 of 25 vertebrate species were extinct along with all the pollinators. Meanwhile, populations of “weedier” species like vines, cockroaches, and ants had exploded. A second team entered Biosphere II in 1994.