February 15, 2016

Biosphere 2 is breathing new life into its ocean in the desert

Biosphere 2, built in 1987 in the Sonoran desert in Oracle Arizona, has quite a bit of history behind it and has changed hands more than a few times. It was originally constructed to function as an artificial closed ecological system and to serve as a center for research, outreach, teaching and lifelong learning about Earth and its living systems. During its operational life it has seen many different biomes come and go, including but not limited to; a rainforest, mangrove wetlands, savannah grassland and a fog desert. It is perhaps best known for the two closure experiments, Missions 1 and 2, which saw the structure sealed with researchers living inside.

Whether those missions succeeded depends on who you ask but there's no denying that the place has generated some good science. Anyone with an interest in the colonization of space no doubt thinks such experiments with closed systems are worthwhile but the ability to study and manipulate a biosphere without harming Earth's is perhaps even more important now that we have begun to realize just what kind of an effect man can truly have on his planet's climate.

In the mid 90s it went to Columbia University but a decade later they too sold it off, this time to a residential home developer. For a time people feared that this would be the end for the astonishing and gigantic glass vivarium but in 2011 Arizona University came to its rescue and since then activities there have been steadily picking up steam. Just recently Biosphere 2 announced that it has started preliminary work on the construction of a new biome. They hope to transform their ocean tank to look like the Gulf of California. New added features will include rocky shorelines, a cactus studded island designed to mimic the Gulf’s midriff islands, and a sargassum forest in the deepest (21 foot) part of the tank. Their Gulf will try to host the same rich array of hearty vertebrate and invertebrate animal species and algae that make up life in the real deal.

The Sonoran Desert in which Biosphere 2 was built owes its biological and cultural diversity in no small part to its proximity to the rich waters of the Sea of Cortez, or Gulf of California, yet many southern Arizona residents and most visitors from afar have little notion of the tight connection between desert and sea.

The living model they are planning to build will highlight the rich ecology, diverse human cultures, and conservation challenges that are concentrated in the unique sea. The Biosphere 2 team also notes that besides providing excellent research opportunities in marine ecology, biochemistry, climate change, ocean acidification, genomics, and conservation biology, they also hope to host special programs built around the new exhibit for educational purpose and science outreach. On top of that they want to foster strong bi-national collaboration with scientists, conservationists, students, and educators in Mexico.


For anyone interested in the biosphere missions, this is a pretty good read. A short thriller similar in style to Lord of the Flies. :p

If you want some more information on the problems they had with soil bacteria stealing their air you can find it on page 2 of this discover magazine article; http://discovermagazine.com/2010/oct/20-life-under-the-bubble

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