Biosphere 2: the experiment of a world within the world

biosphere 2

In 1991, eight people entered Biosphere 2.
Built between 1987 and 1991, it is a 204,000 cubic meter glass and steel structure built in Oracle, Arizona.
It was built to imitate the Earth’s environment (Biosphere 1) and contained several ecosystems:

  • tropical forest,
  • mini ocean,
  • swamp,
  • desert,
  • prairie,
  • hectares of arable land,
  • as well as laboratories and spaces designed to accommodate human life.

The idea was to determine whether a crew could thrive for two years in this environment and to identify possible strategies for the future colonization of other planets.
In addition, they were to cultivate food and conduct experiments in order to study the life cycles of plants, animals, and the recycling of air and water.

If it had worked, humans would have come one step closer to understanding the concept of colony building in space.

The experiment was also to confirm the Gaia hypothesis that the Earth, plants and animals evolved together into a self-regulating system.
For this reason the ecosystems within Biosphere 2 had been recreated by importing different species of plants and animals.

However, it did not work.

biosphere 2

The failure of Biosphere 2

During the two years, the “biosphere” – they had almost no contact with the outside world except through telephone communications and did not allow any element to enter or leave the biosphere.

The experiment encountered several problems:

  • the soils did not produce enough food because of the lack of the Sun.
  • Due to the poor diet, the body masses of the crew began to decrease, as did the oxygen levels as a whole.
  • Jane Poynter, one of the group’s scientists, was taken to the hospital for medical treatment after cutting off a finger, and when she returned, she was accused of having introduced various objects from outside.
  • Most of the pollinating animals, necessary for the development of the ecosystems, died and the ants and cockroaches reproduced at such a speed that they invaded all available space.
  • In the meantime the relationships between the crew members deteriorated more and more, making it increasingly difficult to live together to the point of creating two factions.

One faction claimed that there were different priorities rather than keeping the system completely sealed from the outside.
The other claimed that the autonomy of Biosphere 2 was a fundamental condition for the continuation of the experiment.

biosphere 2

The hardest crisis took place sixteen months after the start of the project, when the massive increase in carbon dioxide caused oxygen levels to drop to the point where they were below safe levels.
More oxygen was pumped in from outside, further compromising the integrity of the experiment.

However, the scientists succeeded in the mission, leaving the facility on 26 September 1993, exactly two years after entering it.

A second mission was launched in March 1994, but it turned out to be another failure.

The Biosphere 2 today

After belonging to Columbia University until 2003, Biosphere 2 was donated to the University of Arizona.

Open to visitors, it is still used today to conduct studies on, among others, climate change, weather, landscape evolution and the effect of drought on rainforests.

In addition to these, psychological tests are also carried out on social dynamics and the emergence of conflicts between human beings forced to live in the same space.