Friday, February 5, 2010

Biosphere 2 - Tucson, Ar.

Tue - Feb. 2nd

Did the groundhog see his shadow today? Six more weeks of winter takes on a new meaning in Arizona. Today we visited Biosphere 2. The earth is Bioshpere 1. It is the world's largest experiment in environmental science, an incredible engineering marvel and scientific experiment in life sciences controlled by water and temperature.

The main part to the left has the main living area and five biomes representing the different environ- ments on earth, ocean, desert, salt water marsh, savannah and rain forest. The building next to it has a small library in the upper dome and the agricultural unit below. To the right is a dome- shaped building that is one of the two lungs used for equalizing the changing air pressure inside.

It was originally a ranch in the 1800s and changed hands several times. It became a conference center in the 60's and 70's, first for Motorola and then the University of Arizona. Space Biosphere Ventures bought the property in 1984 and began construction in 1986. It took four years to build at a cost of $189 million, which was donated by a philanthropist named Bass. His family made their money in Texas oil and later invested in Disney. It was sold in 2007 to a development company for suburbs, with 35 acres where the biosphere is, leased and managed by the University of Arizona.

These are the casitas (small homes) where visiting researchers and conference attendees stay. There were many things to consider when planning it, including physiology and psycology of the eight people that were sealed inside for two years at a time from 1991 to 1993 and another group from 1993 to 1995. The only breach in the seal was when
one person was released for six hours for medical treatment and returned with a small bag of tools. It was designed by Buckminster Fuller and even the ground was completely sealed underneath by a stainless steel liner. Everyone inside had to be cross-trained in several fields such as sciences, mechanics, art, agriculture, cooking. etc.

They had backups to the backups for everything in case something malfunctioned. If the generators stopped working, the temperatures inside could quickly reach 150 degrees. It is 3.14 acres, 91 feet at it's highest point and has 7.2 million feet of glass and is completely self-sustaining.

The original plan was to be able to seal humans inside for 100 years, which would be amazing in case of nuclear war or to support life on another planet. They were enclosed with 250,000 gallons of water (not including the ocean water) and oxygen was pumped in before it was sealed. From then on they had to recycle and/or produce everything
they needed. The two dome-shaped lungs had impermeable, flexible roofs built by Dupont that were totally deflated in the morning from the cool night air and expanded during the heat of the day lifting the roof up again, keeping the air pressure equalized so the glass wouldn't explode out.

This shows the roof inside one of the lungs. An alien movie was filmed here with William Shatner. They had water boilers and chillers to change the temperatures that circulated thru air handlers inside the caves in the desert.

This is inside the rain forest biome. It's most important function was the amount of oxygen it produced. They had hundreds of species of plants and insects and a few animals. The only birds included were hummingbirds for pollination and they all died. Most pollination is done by insects, 30% of which is done by bees. Did you know there
30,000 species of bees, 1,500 in the sonoran desert making it the most diverse in North America. Here is John in the desert biome visiting with a young man he met, whose mother we went to college with in Valley City. Small world. In the desert they had to use coastal fog desert plants. Due to the humidity in the sealed atmosphere, the sonoran plants wouldn't be able to survive.

This is the ocean biome (750,000 gallons), for which they hauled in some actual ocean water, but was mostly made with the stuff they put in aquariums. They had tilapia in the rice paddies.

They had monkeys for socialization purposes, but they turned out to be way more work than they were worth. They had pigs which turned out to be a huge nuisance, because they kept getting into their crops and digging them up and eating them. They had goats and chickens. They had meat once a week and made cheese. Otherwise, they lived on 1800 calorie a day all plant based. It was a nutrient rich diet, but they said they felt hungry all the time and they all lost wieght. The heaviest guy went in at 208 pounds and came out at 150 pounds. Since soil could not be brought in from all over the world for contamination reasons, they had to use all Arizona soil and culture it to create similar conditions to emulate the different world wide environs.
It was opened in 1996 to worldwide research and scientists. If you would like to read more about it check these books. "The Human Experience" by Jane Pointer and one by Rebecca Reid, which is supposed to be better, but I don't remember the title.


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