Biosphere 2 located at 32540 S Biosphere Road in Oracle, Arizona has a history dating back to the concepts of space colonization by Gerard K. O’Neil, physicist and space activist. Although never directly involved in the planning or construction of Biosphere 2, the theoretic papers and conceptions of space colonization of Dr. O’Neil were inspirations for it’s design and experimentation. Construction on Biosphere 2 began in 1987 as a joint venture headed by Space Biosphere Ventures. Built on slightly over 3 acres as an artificially enclosed ecological system, it was named as Biosphere 2, indicating that the earth itself was Biosphere 1. The conceived mission of Biosphere 2 was to seal researchers and scientists in a structure that would simulate self-sustaining living quarters on other planets.
The $250 million-dollar Biosphere 2 hosted a long term enclosed mission from 1991 till 1993. The mission ended because the simulated ecologies could not properly sustain life. The knowledge that was gained lays the foundation for the future of building biospheres for planetary colonization by humans.
In 1995 the owners transferred the management of Biosphere 2 to Columbia University, who ran it as a flow through research center rather than an enclosed eco-system. In 2007 the University of Arizona announced that it would take over Biosphere 2 research.
Deputy Director John Adams
LEO - Landscape Evolution Observatory - the world's largest earth science laboratory
Although it is an active research center for controlled scientific studies, the center is a unique learning experience that is open for public tours. Inhabitants of earth’s biosphere can take guided tours of Biosphere 2 which now furthers understanding of this planet’s ecological system. Most people know of the seven wonders of the world, Biosphere 2 might just be the 8th.
Model ecosystems contained within the Biosphere 2 include:
A mature rain forest with 90 tropic tree species
A simulated ocean
Forested swamps with mangrove trees
A tropical savanna grassland
A coastal fog desert
Three desert hillslopes
Biosphere 2 its campus and associated buildings serve as the urban biosphere model
These unique ecosystems are a part of your adventure when you visit Biosphere 2. Unique new tours at Biosphere 2 offer the Under-Glass Tour, an overview of the entire interior that takes you from the desert to the rain forest. Specially constructed walkways have been built so you can visit without leaving a footprint in these model ecosystems that continue to produce vital scientific data for researchers as they work to save our environment. This tour also takes you underground to the “technosphere” and a includes a visit to see the “lungs”.
The family tour is perfect for families visiting with children under 12. This 1 Hour tour gives you an overview of Biosphere 2 ending with an interactive experience at the Ocean Gallery.
The History Tour is a 45-minute outdoor look at what it was like to be a member of the first mission sealed inside for 2 years. This is a perfect add on tour for inquisitive minds. All the tours are guided by knowledgeable experts who can answer almost every question.
As vast as the earth itself, Biosphere 2 offers multiple experiences with more detailed specialty tours that include:
The Landscape Evolution Observatory (LEO) Tour – an in depth look through the eyes of researchers into a massive eco-hydrology and soil evolution experiment
Food-Water-Energy Tour – Learn how scientists at Biosphere 2 are working towards making sure our food, water and energy is sustainable and safe
Tropical Rainforest Tour – It’ s like a trip to the Amazon, only here scientist is experimenting to find out the relationships between water, carbon and energy and their effects on a dwindling resource
Ocean Research Tour- An amazing up-close look at the model ocean created in Biosphere 2 in the middle of the Arizona desert.
Director’s Tours – A director will lead you on a tour for a behind the scenes look at the research and educational facilities of Biosphere 2
School Tours, or Group Tours are available
Small meals, quick snacks and drinks are available at the Biosphere 2 Café, open during visiting hours. Biosphere 2 is open every day of the year except Thanksgiving and Christmas from 9:00 AM – 4:00 PM.
Biosphere 2 is a destination for everyone, if you are fascinated with one of the most unique construction projects on earth, a building that was designed with ‘lungs’, are intrigued by the prospect of how we might live on another planet, or love research and science, a visit to Biosphere 2 must be on your agenda.
‘Biosphere 2 Facts:
Glass enclosed facility is 3.14 acres.
7.2 million cubic feet enclosed under 6,500 windows.
91 feet tall at highest point and sealed from earth below by a 500-ton welded stainless-steel liner.
Thousands of miles of wiring, pipes and ductwork.
Hundreds of scientific publications and countless new discoveries
40 acre campus includes 300,000 square feet of administrative offices, classrooms, laboratories, conference facilities and residential and student housing ‘ UA Science/Biosphere 2 pamphlet
Story by Daniel Dachille and Laine Page
Some photos courtesy of Biosphere 2