Oracle, AZ

Biosphere 2 is another Earth in the middle of the Sonoran Desert

Timothy Rawles
Biosphere 2Courtesy of Biosphere 2

By Timothy Rawles / NewsBreak Pinal County, AZ

(Oracle, AZ) You may remember the screwball comedy “Bio-Dome” starring Pauly Shore back in 1996, but did you know that it was based on something very real right here in Arizona?

It’s called Biosphere 2, a self-contained environment in which scientists try to understand humans in relation to nature and vice versa through experiments and education. Whatever your views on Earth and its biodiversity, there are certain elements currently being studied to sustain its organic processes.

The history of the land that Biosphere 2 stands on goes back hundreds of years, but notably to Chicago heiress Lady Howard who bought the land and built an extravagant ranch house on an estate she named Casa del Oro.

When the countess passed away, Motorola bought 300 acres of Casa del Oro and used it as their Executive Institute. A few years later the University of Arizona took over the property and they continued to use it as a conference center.

It wasn’t until 1984 that Space Biospheres Ventures (SBV) bought the land. They began to build their giant science experiment in 1986, naming it Biosphere 2; Earth being Biosphere 1.

The project was made to research and develop new ways humans could live in contained environments and survive using only what was available to them technologically. This could be helpful if the planet suffered a catastrophic event or the future colonization of space.

When SBV sealed “Biospherians” inside the dome in 1991 it made headlines. The exercise was repeated in 1994 and yielded helpful research with a better understanding of ecology. Since then, several members of the experimental team have given different accounts of their experiences within the dome.

Today Biosphere 2 is open to the public. You can take an app-based tour through the facility where you’ll learn about its history, research results, and what’s planned for the future.

Visitors will experience five environmental compartments, or biomes: fog desert, mangrove wetlands, tropical rainforest, savannah grassland, and ocean.
Biosphere 2's ocean environmentCourtesy of Biosphere 2

The ocean biome, or Marine Mesocosm, is supposed to replicate life in a Caribbean reef. It is the world’s largest such experiment and measures the ecosystem’s resilience to understand what, if anything, can be done to help save the Earth’s dying oceans.

On land, the tropical rainforest does the same thing. It is modeled after the Amazon Basin and measures 20,000 sq. ft. Researchers have measured plants climbing heights of over 80-feet tall, hitting the glass inside the transparent pyramid.

There are about 100 various species of plants beneath this tropical glass system, each one monitored to document their emissions and behavior under different atmospheric conditions. This research is helpful for drought-prone environments or for calculating climate change and its impact on the rainforest.

The Biosphere 2 was something people living in the ‘80s didn’t understand. Its “Space frame” design, secluded commune-type research and futuristic notions were then only things from a Hollywood science fiction movie.
Researcher collecting data at Biosphere 2Courtesy of Biosphere 2

Over 30 years later the facility is not only a productive educational space, it helps scientists and world leaders in their attempts to not only understand the Earth’s climate but create tools in order to help keep it sustainable. It is the world’s largest controlled environment constantly providing data for developing research.

Biosphere 2 is open every day (except Thanksgiving and Christmas) from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

For more information check out the Biosphere 2 website.

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Timothy Rawles has been a journalist for over 20 years. He has written for global publications in San Francisco, San Diego, and Phoenix. His favorite stories are features, interviews, entertainment news, and local stories.

San Tan Valley, AZ

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