Monday, February 16, 2009

Touring Biosphere 2, Oracle, Arizona

Today we drove 30 minutes north of Tucson on Hwy 77 to explore the famous Biosphere 2 facility. This is a 3.14 acre greenhouse that supports four distinct environmental regions; tropical Savannah, ocean marshlands, coastal desert, and tropical rain forest. This facility was originally constructed to find out if a completely closed environment or ecosystem (air, soil and water isolated from the outside) could sustain human life. From 1991 to 1993 this question was put to the test (and made famous) when 8 people called Biospherians were “sealed” inside. This meant that these 8 people lived, grew their own food. and obtained their water only from the ecology of the facility. We were surprised to learn that the research was not about the people, but rather the sustainability of the environment for which they lived, and at the end of the program, the experience and experiment was deemed successful. Today the facility is no longer a closed environment and is used by University of Arizona scientists to conduct research to determine the role that water plays on the earth’s biology and geology.

The tour that we took is called the ‘Under the glass tour’. The tour starts with a 10 minute movie which provides an overview of the facility and its current research mission. You then proceed to Biosphere 2 where a guide takes you in groups through the tropical Savannah overlooking a million gallon saltwater ocean, ocean marshlands, coastal desert, the technosphere (the basement that contains the mechanical systems that sustain the environments), and a tropical rain forest. All along the way, the guide provided information about each region, talking about upcoming research projects and answering any questions. Our guide was one of the original guides from when Biosphere 2 opened, so he provided a lot of historical background information which was very informative and helpful.

Overall we found the facility and tour interesting. Brad found the engineering and mechanical side of Biosphere 2 more interesting than the environments and research conducted, whereas Suzanne enjoyed the regions of Biosphere more, but wanted to learn more about the Biospherians themselves. It’s a unique place that if you are in the Tucson area and have the time it’s worth a visit. Biosphere 2 is opened daily and the tour costs $20 per person (there is a AAA discounts of $2 on the adult ticket price) and keep your receipt, as 50% of your admission price is tax deductible as a charitable contribution. Unfortunately, due to the number of stairs during the tour, it is not wheel chair accessible. However, the grounds and the outside of Biosphere 2 are wheelchair accessible, but you should call before visiting to understand the restriction completely.

Trivia Question:

Q: Where/what is Biosphere 1?

Please respond with your answer as a Comment to this post, and look for the correct answer in this post tomorrow!

2/17/09 Answer: Jim was correct….it’s the Earth!!! Thanks for your responses!


Jerry and Suzy said...

We visited Biosphere 2 many years ago (guess it couldn't be TOO many years ago!). It wasn't the same tour then.

You folks do a great job of explaining clearly and concisely what you've seen and done, and that is great! Keep it up. You may find out, after your getaway year is over you want to keep doing it.

Jim said...

I believe Biosphere one is planet Earth?

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