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Just a short drive from Tucson, Arizona sits Biosphere 2, the largest closed system science research facility ever constructed. Biosphere 1 would be the planet Earth; Biosphere 2 is on a 40-acre plot of land surrounded by desert and mountains in the southwestern United States. In 1987 a collection of investors and scientists came together to build a structure containing various biomes with greenhouses, desert, savanna, rainforest, living quarters and a living sea. There were too controversial missions that tested the viability of the structure by locking a group of people within along with birds, goats, and insects. Although there were claims made that the purpose of the structure was purely environmental research, it became clear that the greater goal was establishing a system for space colonization that could be replicated on other planets to support human life.
The living sea within Biosphere 2, complete with its own coral reef, was actually created to be used by the researchers to manage the waste they created while simultaneously providing fertilizer for their crops and food to eat. Pretty neat, right? The saltwater tank is over 700,000 gallons, making it the largest contained ocean in the world. There is currently a collaboration project underway between a crowd-funded research project and the University of Arizona to transform the living sea into a “Desert Sea” that will serve to display the ecology of the Sea of Cortez.
One of the most intriguing individuals involved in the project is Jayne Poynter who was tasked with handling food production for the experiments. Several of the living areas, including Jayne’s living quarters and the kitchen, have been preserved as a museum you can visit. Her book, The Human Experiment: Two Years and Twenty Minutes Inside Biosphere 2, documents the problems they encountered including low oxygen, hunger, and conflict between inhabitants. The Biosphere 2 tour takes patrons into the “world” where Jayne and her fellow researchers survived along with the everyday drama they encountered.
The Biosphere 2 offers tours daily. Tickets aren’t cheap at $40 a piece, but it is well worth it. If you want more about the history of the early years and original experiments, then double down and go for the weekend tour. If you’re lucky, you’ll even have an opportunity to be a former “Biospherian” (several still work with the project providing tours and sharing stories of their experience). The tour brings you on roughly a mile long journey through the desert, and past the coffee plants where the researchers harvested coffee beans for their morning cup of joe. It’s little details like that, that really bring you into the experience of Biosphere 2 and make you think about the concept of those researchers surviving in there all these years ago.
The Biosphere 2 experiment an intriguing story for young and old about survival and what makes our planet Earth truly so incredible.
Do you think you could survive two years in Biosphere 2?