Arizona-based Biosphere 2.
Courtesy: University of Arizona

 

The iconic Biosphere 2 is largely remembered by its housing of crews — dubbed “Biospherians” — sealed inside the large facility in the early 1990s – built to learn more about self-sustaining space habitats.

Two missions, between 1991 and 1994, sealed Biospherians inside the huge terrarium-like glass enclosure to measure survivability.

One-of-a-kind

Thanks to an endowment from American businessman, Edward P. Bass – a key founder in creating Biosphere 2 – it will tackle some of the century’s most critical questions in food, water and energy security.

The University of Arizona (UA) received the multi-million dollar gift to support the one-of-a-kind facility. UA researchers are probing questions about environmental change, management of finite and dwindling natural resources, and policies to protect the Earth’s fragile ecosystems.

Biosphere 2 layout.
Credit: University of Arizona

In 2016, the UA reaffirmed its commitment to Biosphere 2 as a University-wide hub for environmental research and public engagement when the facility and its operations were moved to the Office for Research, Discovery & Innovation.

The University of Arizona has supported Biosphere 2 research since it took over management of the facility in 2007. More than 900,000 people have visited Biosphere 2 since 2007, according to a UA press statement.

Earth sciences

Based in Oracle, Arizona, Biosphere 2 houses the Landscape Evolution Observatory, or LEO, the world’s largest laboratory experiment in earth sciences.

LEO consists of three identical hill slopes, each measuring 100 feet long and 40 feet wide. A network of more than 1,800 sensors embedded in the soil tracks the flow of water, helping scientists answer questions about how physical and biological processes control the evolution of landscapes and how time and climate change affect water flowing through landscapes.

Biosphere 2’s simulated rainforest is being utilized to study how plants cope with high temperatures and drought to better understand how climate change may affect forests from the Amazon to Arizona.

Visitors explore Biosphere 2.
Credit: Steven Meckler

Other work includes experimenting with agrivoltaics, which involves growing plants beneath solar panels, pairing renewable energy with agriculture to increase energy efficiency and reduce evaporation.

New research heights

“As one of our nation’s top 25 public research institutions, we are poised to take Biosphere 2 to new heights in the coming decade,” explains Kimberly Andrews Espy, the UA’s senior vice president for research.

“We are committed to its continuing success,” Espy adds, “the place where researchers from a variety of disciplines at the UA and across the world will come together to uncover the systems-level mechanisms that support complex ecosystems to evaluate new solutions for adaptation to the changing conditions.”

To learn more and to plan a visit to Biosphere 2, go to:

http://biosphere2.org/

Also, go to this aerial overview of Biosphere 2 from Southeast Hoverworks at:

https://vimeo.com/122581165

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