Last weekend we went on a mini-roadtrip and visited a scientific gem hidden in the Sonoran desert: Biosphere 2. Sound familiar? You’re probably thinking of the 90s movie with a similar name, “Bio-Dome”. But don’t get confused! Biosphere 2 has a more serious and science driven purpose than the movie.
What is Biosphere 2?
Biosphere 2 is a large research and educational facility dedicated to studying changes in the Earth’s biomes. Think of it as a mini replica of Earth including five biomes: rainforest, grassland, ocean, wetland, and desert. The original focus of study was to observe how humans would be able to sustain life in a closed ecological system and, if this were possible, how this could be applied to space colonization. There were two human live-in experiments in the early 90s with the goal of nothing going in or out once the doors were sealed (but not locked). The first one involved eight scientists that stayed inside for two years. The second experiment involved seven scientists and lasted just under one year. Both groups did have contact with the outside world and there was support staff monitoring them in case of emergency. However, they were expected to work together to simulate living in a closed ecosystem. Every day they were expected the do routine maintenance, tend to their crops, and run scientific experiments. They grew all their own food, regulated the temperature and rainfall of each biome, and all while living with the same people for months on end. They took the phrase #forscience to a new level!
The buildings are absolutely incredible. There are two domes, nicknamed lungs, that specifically regulate the air pressure. When the buildings were used for the human live-in experiments the roofs of the domed lungs would expand and contract as the air temperature changed. We experienced this and it was exhilarating watching the roof drop 10 feet in only one minute as the air pressure lowered. I didn’t get a video of the “lungs” moving but here are some highlights of our trip below (change the video settings to 1080p!):
So…where is Biosphere 1?
Remember, there is no such thing as a stupid question but you may feel stupid after I tell you the answer. I wondered the same thing, where is biosphere 1? When I heard the answer I thought, that’s so obvious!
Biosphere 1 is Earth! The goal of Biosphere 2 was to re-create the environment of Biosphere 1 aka Earth. It was intended to be a replica of our world. The live-in experiments were a test to see if humans were able to sustain themselves in an Earth-like environment. The success of such a venture could lead to humans living on other planets! In my opinion, Biosphere 2 looks it was pulled out of a science fiction novel because the buildings are all different shapes and entirely made of glass.
Today, Biosphere 2 is used as a research and educational facility. They host scientists from around the world who conduct research in the various biomes. During the summer months, they host K-12 students who come for a tour or even stay on-site for up to a week. The whole thing was amazing and well worth a trip if you’re in the Phoenix or Tucson areas!