Monday, March 3, 2014

3/2 Biosphere 2, Tucson, AZ

I had a very short drive today, so after doing some shopping at Camping World for some plugs and water filter cartridges, I decided to stop by Biosphere 2.  This is the experimental lab where 8 people lived or tried to live in a sealed environment for two years in the 80s. 

It was built at a cost of $250 million by a billionaire who hoped it could provide information for how people could live in space.  

It is now owned by the University of Arizona and used for experiments and as a conference center.  These are hotel rooms and meeting facilities.  It also is open for tours by the public.


What was interesting was comparing what the volunteer guides said to what I later read on the internet.  I did some internet research because some of the stuff they told us was very strange, such as the only animals allowed inside were ants, cockroaches, some goats for milk, and a small monkey!  When I asked about pollinators like bees and birds, they said everything that was planted for food was self-pollinating, which is an impossible statement.   Turns out that within a few months of the experiments, all the bees and other insect pollinators had become extinct.  Strange.

The building to the left is one of the main greenhouses and the white building in the middle is where the "biospherians" lived and fought, apparently, based on what the media did not report.  There were constant food shortages and when the humans came out after two years, they were all extremely thin.  (Guides told us they had just lost excess body fat.)  Could lack of pollinators be part of the cause?


This is the main entrance to the complex where the biospherians got sealed in.

To the left is the coral reef ocean and the moderate climate to the right.  It turns out that none of the volunteers were gardeners and only a couple were actually scientists.   I thought that some of their plant choices were a bit strange.  For example, why a coral reef instead of something like a catfish pond, for example?? 

This is the rainforest.  It was not this overgrown during the experiment. Apparently some of the plants that were originally planted took over the space and forced out other species so that the biospherians spent considerable time just cutting back overgrowth.  In addition, almost none of the stuff in this area was even edible.


Another area was the desert.  Actually the Sonoran Desert has many food producing plants, but few were included here.  And some plants, such as a boojam tree and frankincense trees, were included because they were gifts of foreign dignitaries. Not only do those plants produce any food, but they have few leaves to even produce oxygen! 

The "basement" part of the tour was interesting.  This is where fresh water was stored and air filtered and humidity controlled.


All of this equipment needed maintenance, so we were told that this task also took a considerable amount of time that could have been spent growing crops for food, which contributed to the food problem.


Here in Arizona, days can be very hot, but nights are almost always cool or cold, so they devised two "lungs" to provide room for air expansion.  It did not take many months for problems with not enough oxygen to show up.  Often the biospherians were so short of breath, they could not even climb the stairs to the library, which for some reason was several flights up.

This circular flat "table" was surrounded by a membrane that allowed it to move up or down depending on air volume. It did not really let in outside air, although eventually they did have to open a door to increase the oxygen to safer levels.

This is the communal kitchen for the biospherians.  They had a lot of bananas and fruit, and a few grains, but the bean and peanut crops did not do well, so their diet was protein poor and calorie poor.  They had a couple of pigs at the beginning but ended up slaughtering them and the goats.

And each had his or her own apartment with TV.  Looks like a very comfortable jail cell.

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