Biosphere 2 Adventures

It’s an impressive thing this trapezoidal Pyramid shaped object of glass. Two domes that serve as mechanical lungs…. power stations, living quarters, bookstore and other out buildings. The glass enclosures hold four different terrains of ecosystems: a rain forest, ocean, a mangrove that steps down into a desert. In the subterranean bowels of it run miles of pipe and wires, tanks and tunnels to monitor, manipulate, regulate the climates, humidity, carbon dioxide and temperatures that are need to create sustainable environments in a scientific terrarium.

All the photographs made it look much larger than it actually is. Inside is quite small. The buildings have that 60s scifi feeling and you half expect to meet some mad scientist or a the similarly dressed minions of a doomsday cult. Fortunately, it’s a really friendly tour guide with a memorize pitch for each ecosystem with the most recent science projects sprinkled in.

The building of BioSphere2 started in 1987 and it began with closed human experiments twice. With the intention to do scientific research on the sustainability and environmental/earth science. .There are many views to the success and failures of the project prior to it’s transfer to Columbia University and then to the University of Arizona. Strangely, Steve Bannon ( Yes, that Steve Bannon….) was at one point part of the history of this desert ecological project. The Wikipedia page has all the details:

I remember back in the 80s you could buy a glass sphere with sea water, a shrimp and a piece of seaweed in it. The instructions were simple don’t put it in direct sun and let the magic of science create a balanced, sustainable system that lives on your desk. Most became a dead zone of algae. Green slime and then the remains of dead organic material floating in a sealed glass ball. And a few would work for awhile and all would be amazed by the lonely shrimp’s survival in the air tight desk top zoo. Yet, any little variance could shift the tiny perfect world into a slime ball.

A more contemporary Biosphere ball – 2020

These glass Biospheres always reminded me of the fragile nature of how this world works and keeps working. Everything matters. Everything can change. Everything depends on the relationships to others. Anything that succeeds at the expense of the others will cause dire consequences to the environment.

Also, life here on Earth is diverse and complex. So many communities, communication, interactions, reactions, mistakes and successes go into the making this world. The Biosphere 2 seems too simple. Not diverse enough. I saw lots of plants but no mosses, lichens, fungi. To me these are the creators of soil and the ones responsible for communicating, building networks for nutrients and water.

Although, they work very hard to recreate the conditions for each ecosystem there are limits to what you can do in a small space that will truly mimic the complex realities of earth ecosystem, patterns of weather, winds, humidity, species diversity, and drought. To me it feels a little force to fit the reality of where we are right now on the planet. Yet, interesting in all the same ways cracking the mysterious is.

The whole facility is for education now. In that sense it does serve to offer ways to figure out how we can be more effective with deeping our relationship to the environment and work towards understanding ways to combat climate change.