Biosphere 2 Brings a Rainforest to the Arizona Desert
Did you know that Arizona has its very own rain forest? It also has an ocean, a savannah, a swamp and a desert. These landscapes are housed in Biosphere 2, a 40-acre Earth systems research campus located in Oracle, Arizona.
The campus, which has been run by the University of Arizona since 2011, houses a three-acre research facility that contains seven model ecosystems. Is there a Biosphere 1? Yes—it’s the Earth. Biosphere 2 is modeled after Earth, providing scientists a space to conduct research on landscape and climate change.
Researchers at the Landscape Evolution Observatory (LEO) observe changes in three distinct, controlled landscapes. Scientists at Biosphere 2 also conduct research on water and droughts, energy use, coral reef restoration and sustainability.
Since each ecosystem is contained, researchers can test new strategies for managing climate change without impacting the public. They use computer programs to simulate biological, physical and chemical events to predict how each ecosystem will respond.
These model ecosystems are by no means small. The rainforest is home to more than 90 species of tropical trees, and the ocean is 2,600 cubic meters in size and 25 feet deep. Controlled environments allow each ecosystem to perform as it would in the real world—it actually rains in the rain forest!
In 1991 and 1994, scientists (dubbed Biospherians) were sealed inside enclosures in the facility for extended periods to determine whether humans could survive in such a structure. The scientists in the 1991 crew sustained an agriculture program in the self-contained biome for two years—and they wrote a cookbook to commemorate their favorite recipes.
The facility is now a conference center and offers daily tours. For details on tours and to purchase tickets, visit the Biosphere 2 web site.
Studies in Biosphere 2’s terrestrial biomes showed that a saturation point was reached with elevated CO2 beyond which they are unable to uptake more. The studies’ authors noted that the striking differences between the Biosphere 2 rainforest and desert biomes in their whole system responses “illustrates the importance of large-scale experimental research in the study of complex global change issues”.