In the midst of the sprawling desert lays a curious sight. It’s bizarre, it’s captivating and it’s just like stepping into a strange science fiction movie from the 1950s. But you haven’t. It’s 2021 and your feet are firmly planted on planet earth. The immense glistening geodesic formation in front of you is Biosphere 2 (What’s Biosphere 1 you ask? It’s none other than Earth!).
Biosphere 2 is a fascinating fusion of biology, engineering, ecology and sociology. Housed over 3 acres of land, the original sealed experiment had the purpose of creating structures that could eventually be used for colonization on Mars, the Moon, and beyond.
In the early 1990’s an eccentric group of visionaries embarked on an ambitious scientific experiment. These 8 individuals (called biospherians) would be sealed in the massive terrarium for 2 years to provide data on sealed environments. Various complications such low oxygen, transparency regarding help from the outside, plant and animal die-offs, internal friction, and external power struggles led to much criticism from the media at that time. (For more details on this I highly recommend watching the documentary Spaceship Earth. Streaming on Hulu.)
But despite the things that went wrong, much was learned in regards to closed-system environments and important research continues to be done there today. Columbia University ran experiments from 1995-2003 and in 2007 the University of Arizona took over research and eventually assumed full ownership in 2011.
The main biomes (Rain Forest, Ocean with Coral Reef, Mangrove Wetlands, Savannah Grasslands, and Fog Desert) continue to prove their importance as controlled areas that can be explored and experimented on without harming the actual earth. Current projects include: Landscape Evolutionary Observation (examining how climate change effects our landscapes), The Ocean Reef Lab, Methane Emissions in the Rain Forest, SAM Mars Analog, and more.
Be sure to check out biosphere2.org and their social media accounts to see their latest experiments and for more information on visiting! And be sure to watch for a podcast episode that compliments this blog post coming soon!