Legacy of Biosphere 2 lives on in singular research space


ORACLE, Ariz. — They lived for two years and 20 minutes under the glass of a miniature Earth, complete with an ocean, rain forest, desert, grasslands and mangroves. Their air and water were recycled, and they grew the sweet potatoes, rice and other food they needed to survive.

About 1,500 people were invited and some 200 journalists were on hand as the eight original inhabitants of Biosphere 2 left their glass terrarium a quarter-century ago last month in two groups that no longer talked to each other amid the stress of sharing a small space and disputes over how the project should be run. Detractors called the $150 million experiment a failure because additional oxygen was pumped into what was supposed to be a self-sustaining system.

A power struggle in subsequent months led Texas billionaire backer Edward P. Bass to hire investment banker Stephen Bannon, who was later President Trump’s chief strategist, to bring the project back from financial disarray.

Today, Biosphere 2 is a different kind of place, a University of Arizona site where researchers from around the world can study everything from the effects of the ocean’s acidification on coral to ways of ensuring food security.

“It started out as a great, big kind of societal experiment and was transformed by pure ingenuity into something else that has proved useful,” said Jeffrey S. Dukes, director of the Perdue Climate Change Research Center. “It’s also a really cool facility to tour.”

Joaquin Ruiz, a geologist who directs the project in the Sonoran Desert about 30 miles (48 kilometres) northeast of Tucson, said Biosphere 2’s controlled environments allow researchers to conduct experiments they won’t try outside “because you don’t want to have unintended circumstances.”

That means researchers from the Global Institute for Water Security at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada don’t have to worry about …read more

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