Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

A Trip to Biosphere 2

Dan, Charlotte, and me
One of the “must see” attractions on our Tucson list was Biosphere 2.  And when our friends (and my former co-workers) Charlotte and Dan said they were stopping in Tucson and were also interested we headed to the super structure for a look around.   Biosphere 2 was constructed in the late 1980’s as a living laboratory for scientists to better understand how natural environments create habitable conditions for human sustainability.  Sound complicated?  It is!  By the way, the term biosphere refers to any closed, self-regulating systems containing ecosystems and Biosphere 1 is the planet Earth.

You enter the sealed door
but luckily it does not lock
behind you.

The futuristic Biosphere 2 made news back in 1991 when 8 “Biospherians” dressed in astronaut-looking suits held a press conference declaring they were going to seal themselves inside the sphere for two years.  Thus entering into a totally closed system.  The purpose of this experiment (dubbed Mission 1) was to allow scientists to monitor the continually changing chemistry of the air, water and soil that was contained within the artificial environment representing six different biomes.  Since this was a closed system, Biospherians were expected to produce all of their own food.  Their diet consisted primarily of plants although some goats, fish and fowl were consumed and utilized in dairy production.  The Biospherians reported constant hunger and lost approximately 16% of their body weight within the first year.  Compounding the problems associated with hunger were the wild fluctuations in oxygen levels.  Both hunger and low oxygen levels decreased morale and caused strife and factions within the group.
The kitchen located in the living area.  
Rainforest biome.
The ambitious project became a source of controversy and critics mocked it as a failed scientific experiment.  Problems arose due to the overstocking of fish that clogged the water systems, unanticipated condensation made the desert biome too wet, populations of greenhouse ants and cockroaches exploded, and non-rainforest plants began overgrowing the rainforest biome.

There was further controversy when it was discovered that an injured member was allowed to leave and return and brought new material inside.  The team claimed the only new supplies brought in were plastic bags, but others accused them of bringing food and other items.  More discredit came to the project when it was learned that additional oxygen had been pumped inside to make up for a lack in the oxygen.

The facility is open to the public where guided tours are offered.

The 850 square meter ocean is now used to study the impacts of microbes on
degrading plastics in the ocean

Yet those who participated in Mission 1 and the later Mission 2 believe the experiments did not fail and much was learned.  Despite the praise, criticisms, and controversy, Biosphere 2 (now owned by the University of Arizona) continues to function as an earth science research facility helping to understand the role of life on Earth and the effects of climate change. 

The structure contains 6,500 windows and 7,200,00 cubic feet of sealed glass. 
Biosphere 2 represents five biomes including tropical rainforest, ocean with coral reefs, mangrove wetlands, savannah grassland, and fog desert.
Inside the "lung" - a structure that was necessary to allow the air inside the facility to expand and contract.   The lung is shown in the picture above as the dome structure at the far right.
Banding brown pelicans, me with Jody DeMeyere, and Charlotte (more than) a few years ago.  We
loved having her and Dan here for a visit.  Brought back old memories!

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