Biosphere 2

Recently, I visited Tucson, Arizona for the first time. I met a lot of really great people, ate a lot of delicious food, and the desert is so amazing that these topics will call for additional blog posts, but I thought I’d start with the first thing we did on our first day, because it was so geek-fabulous that even as I write this I have a silly grin on my face.

Please forgive me. I’m bouncing up and down in my chair, and I can barely contain an excited scream. I got to see Biosphere 2!!!!!!!!!!

This facility, in Oracle, Arizona, first captured my imagination in 1991, when 4 women and 4 men entered its closed ecological system to conduct scientific experiments for two years. They produced their own food, and maintained a mini ocean, rainforest, fog desert, and mangrove swamp as well as a fruit orchard. They even grew their own coffee, but only produced enough for a cup once every few weeks, which must have been torture for coffee lovers.

The purpose of this entire elaborate experiment was to see if it would be possible to maintain human life in outer space. That was what I found so exciting. It was like a space mission right here on earth. I wanted to pull up stakes and move right in myself.

It’s probably best that I didn’t, though. It was hard work. They were constantly hungry. They burned 400 more calories than they ate on most days. I’d have been grumpy. I’d have wanted ice cream.

And, in fact, the psychological aspect of the experiment was what intrigued me the most. The group of 8 wound up splitting into two groups of 4, and the two groups really didn’t like one another. They barely spoke. And yet they still managed to put the biosphere first and maintain the mission. The divisions make me sad for humanity and its attraction to drama, but the fact that they still worked toward a common goal, the health of the biosphere, gives me hope.

Because where’s Biosphere 1? You’re living in it. We all are. It’s planet earth. This complex, life-sustaining ecosystem of ours is critical for our survival, and if we don’t start taking climate change seriously, we’re not going to leave much for future generations. And as the saying goes, there is no Planet B. To heck with surviving in outer space. We need to be able to survive right here, and we’re certainly doing our level best to make that a challenge.

The tour of Biosphere 2 also takes you beneath it, to where all the mechanical systems are, and into the gigantic lung, which kept the facility from imploding or exploding during differing pressure systems. A picture of the lung room is below. (A fun fact is that it was also used as a film set for a very bad movie starring William Shatner in 2002, entitled Groom Lake, which sounds like an entirely miss-able movie.)

Both closed missions in this facility were fraught with controversy, but they taught us much. Currently, Biosphere 2 is owned by the University of Arizona, and they’re doing untold numbers of research experiments, including a Landscape Evolution Observatory (LEO), a Lunar Greenhouse, and a vertical farming project. I’m so glad that this amazing place is still contributing to our knowledge. We need all that we can get, in this age of ignorance.

If you ever get a chance to take a tour, I highly recommend it. I’m also adding a book that was written by two of the original biospherians to the very top of my reading list. Life Under Glass: The Inside story of Biosphere 2 by Abigail Alling and Mark Nelson sounds like a fascinating read. There are actually several books on the subject, but this seems like a great place to start.

Without further ado, here are some of the pictures from my visit.

Biosphere 2

Biosphere 2 Rainforest
The rainforest
Biosphere 2 Cloud Desert
The Cloud Desert
Biosphere 2 Ocean
The Ocean
Biosphere 2 Lung
The lung. That heavy aluminum plate sinks to the ground when it’s cold, and rises when it is hot. It was 100 degrees that day.

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4 thoughts on “Biosphere 2

  1. lyn sutton

    When I took my geeky kids there in the late 90’s we didn’t get to see the lung. I suppose they’ve changed some things but my kids were pretty impressed with what they did see and didn’t even mind the August heat. Almost moved to Tucson after that trip. Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon area were also memorable but heavy on the tourist traffic.

  2. Pingback: Impressions of Tucson, Arizona – The View from a Drawbridge

  3. Pingback: My Summer of Water and Smoke – The View from a Drawbridge

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