Biosphere 2: What You Need to Know about the Leading Earth Science Project

Biosphere 2: What You Need to Know about the Leading Earth Science Project

Scientists often have to overcome adversity to find success. Poverty, sexism, and racism are just a few of the unfortunate hardships to have played a role in the lives of some of the most prominent scientists in history. Furthermore, modern scientists on a daily basis must rise above such challenges as obtaining funding for research, securing adequate space for laboratories, and attracting and keeping capable students and assistants, among other obstacles.

One research laboratory, in particular, serves as an example of overcoming the adversity often faced by those involved in scientific study. Biosphere 2, a University of Arizona research laboratory, has encountered challenges over its decades-long history, but it has always served as a leader in Earth science. Read on to learn more about this fascinating facility.

History of Biosphere 2

According to its official website, Biosphere 2 sits on land that was part of a ranch in the 1800s. In the 1960s and 1970s, this land was developed for use as a conference facility. In 1984 the land was purchased by Space Biosphere Ventures, and two years later, construction began on the facility now known as Biosphere 2, a project that sought to develop technology that could be used to colonize space.

Between 1991 and 1994, two long-term experiments were conducted, sealing research teams into the facility to study ecological science, self-sufficiency, and the potential to survive space colonization. The interpersonal challenges during these missions are documented by an AP News report as well as several first-person publications by members of the research teams. While many popular reports characterize these experiments as failures because of their many challenges, the official Biosphere 2 website notes the useful research that was conducted during this time.

Decisions Investment Corporation purchased the site in 1994, and Columbia University managed the facility from 1996-2003, halting “closed-system” research and instead focusing on the effects of high levels of carbon dioxide on plants. From 2007-11, the University of Arizona leased the property from CDO Ranching, its new owners. Finally, in 2011 the University of Arizona purchased Biosphere 2 and has owned it ever since.

Despite changing ownership several times, since its completion in 1991, Biosphere 2 has consistently included a focus on Earth science. This long-term focus illustrates the ability of a scientific endeavor to persist despite challenges. Ownership and management changes can bring shifting priorities, but the facility itself, which includes a model rainforest, ocean, savanna, mangrove, desert, and city, has consistently lent itself to cutting-edge research in ecology and the environment for more than 25 years.

Current Research Themes

Current research themes at Biosphere 2 fall into three categories: water and climate, critical zone, and energy and sustainability. Water and climate research centers on how water functions in complex environments, while critical zone research involves the Earth’s surface and includes hydrology, geology, and ecology, as well as soil and atmospheric sciences. Strategic resource management is the focus of energy and sustainability research.

All of these themes fit into the Biosphere 2 mission, which is to study the environment, quality of life, and the Earth’s place in the universe. Additionally, Biosphere 2 aims to study the many challenges ecosystems face and how to develop computer models that can predict how ecosystems will respond to these challenges. These computer models are also compared against actual events to assess the effectiveness of computer modeling and shape future development in this area.

Outreach at Biosphere 2

Outreach at Biosphere 2 involves K-12 educational programs, university-level opportunities, and programs for interns and volunteers. K-12 offerings include tours and interactive programs, overnight summer experiences, teacher development opportunities, and classroom activities. University-level opportunities include field trips, independent study programs, and overnight summer research experiences. Research internships are open to University of Arizona Honors College students, while volunteer opportunities to fabricate research equipment are open to the general public.

The general public can also benefit from the Biosphere 2 facility through its educational tours. In the Under the Glass tour, participants trek across the model rainforest, ocean, and desert, as well as sites associated with the technology and engineering that allow Biosphere 2 to function. The 60-minute, interactive Family tour is open to all ages, as is a tour that focuses solely on the model ocean and beach. Additionally, visitors can check out the History tour, which concentrates on the construction of Biosphere 2 and its early 1990s live-in experiments.

Other specialty tours are offered to guests 12 and up. These tours include the Tropical Rainforest tour, the Ocean Research tour, the Landscape Evolution Observatory tour, and the Food-Water-Energy tour. Finally, visitors also have the opportunity to take a tour of behind-the-scenes areas led by a Biosphere 2 director.