Biosphere 2, a scientific research center that at first glance, makes you feel like you are on the set of the 1968 film Space Odessy. Located in Oracle, Arizona – this small off-the-beaten-path town is aptly named for the 40-acre research campus. Oracles are said to be a deity that reveals hidden knowledge, usually through a person. In this case, the “person” would be Biosphere 2.
Created in 1984 by Texas philanthropist and businessman, Ed Bass and ecologist John Allen, Biosphere 2 had two goals. The first was to explore the intention that biospheres could be used as a way to maintain a viable environment for human life in the colonization of other planets. The second was to study global ecological conservation and learn how the Earth’s natural biospheres are connected and operate.
Breath does, in fact, connect us all in a very literal way. Take a breath now. And as you breathe, think about what is in your breath. There perhaps is the CO2 from the person sitting next-door to you.
~ Jane Poynter one of the original Bioshperian team members
Biosphere 2, named after the first biosphere – Earth, was designed to be completely self-sufficient and sustaining life within the enclosure. In 1991 a crew of 8 “biospherians” (researchers from a variety of science-based fields) were locked in Biosphere 2 for two years to study and put survivability within a closed environment to the test.
For science geeks, this is where it gets interesting.
Inside the Biosphere 2
The research center, built in the late 1980s consists of three main areas that are connected by walkways and underground tunnels – the human habitat, the technosphere, and the ecosphere.
The human habitat area is where the biospherians relaxed, prepared meals in a communal kitchen, slept in private quarters and conducted research in field-specific laboratories. Each scientist had a small private 2-story apartment dubbed a ‘castle’ that they could decorate as they chose. The biospherians used computers and land-line based telephones (yes, that is a telephone that is actually connected to the wall by a wire) to keep in touch with family and friends on ‘the outside’.
The human habitat and ecosphere sections are both housed in an airtight above-ground glass enclosure. This area of the biosphere is created from 7.2 million cubic feet of glass (6,600 windows) and supported by a network of steel framing. Each end of the glass structure is shaped like pyramids, mimicking the Mayan pyramids and middle eastern wind towers. The highest point is a soaring 91 feet. To maintain a closed environment with minimal to no oxygen loss, each pane of glass is two layers of heat-strengthened glass joined by plastic laminate.
The ecosphere habitat accommodates five distinct ecosystems: fog desert (a type of desert where fog drip supplies the majority of moisture needed by animal and plant life), tropical rainforest, savanna grasslands, mangrove wetlands, and an ocean with a coral reef. Experiments within these systems offered insight into how the web of life interacts within the system and as a whole connecting one system to another.
Biosphere 2 is an Eco-friendly Building Breathes
The Technosphere, located underground is what keeps the Biosphere running and literally ‘breathing’ smoothly. Within the 3.14-acre biosphere environment are more than two dozen air units that control air temperature and humidity allowing for heating, cooling, and dehumidification.
On the west and south sides of the facility are two large above-ground domes. These massive domes are variable-expansion units with rubber membranes located near the ceiling – in short, creating the Biosphere’s “lungs”. Each lung expands during the day with heat from the sun and contracts as temperatures cool during the night. The cycle repeats over a 24-hour period creating a breathing-effect allowing for air movement throughout the Biosphere.
The “breathing effect” felt like a gentle breeze in most of the environments, with the exception of walking through the airlock door into the expansion domes. Walking through the airlock door the wind was so strong it nearly blew me over!
Current Research Projects
The original research projects which offered valuable insight to questions such as ‘will cockroaches flourish when other species die out?’ (the answer is yes, they will flourish, but hopefully not like Men in Black II) have long since ended. But the Biosphere has not stopped being an exceptional research facility.
Today it is used as a semi-closed environment to explore critical questions regarding the future of Earth, its environment, and how humans are affecting both. Other research projects include a Lunar Greenhouse that is testing how vegetables may grow on other planets and a vertical farming landscape to increase water efficiency and zero effect from external weather conditions.
To this day, Biosphere 2 is considered one of the most exciting scientific projects in the United States since we launched into space and walked on the Moon.
If you are considering a trip to Arizona to experience this incredible blend of science and technology – and you should because reading about it just will not deliver a full understanding of what was created and accomplished – here are a few things you should know:
Know before you go:
- The tours are not handicap accessible. There is a lift that will go from one level to another but there are locations with multiple stairs within that level.
- Open every day from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm, except Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. Get discount tickets HERE.
- Tours are available every day at various times and with various options, consult their website for details.
- Depending on the size of the tour group, the tour can run 45 minutes to 1.5 hours.
- Some exhibits are open for self-guided tours, but the majority of the Biome require a tour guide to view.
- You will experience a variety of temperatures and humidity levels during the tour so wear layers
- For the women, I do not recommend wearing high heeled shoes as the tour route is just under one-mile round trip.
- There are approximately 150 stairs throughout the tour.
- No outside food is allowed on the Biosphere campus. There is a cafe that offers light snacks (soup, salad, sandwiches) and drinks. There are additional restaurants within 15-miles of Biosphere 2 for dining.
- The Oracle Patio Cafe, 270 W. American Ave (5.2 miles away) – breakfast, lunch, smoothies, homemade pies
- It’s Greek To Me, 15920 N. Oracle Rd (7.2 miles away) – fresh fish, gyros, pita sandwiches, greek yogurt, gluten-free options
- Grain River Asian Bistro, 12985 N. Oracle Rd (11 miles away) – fine Asian cuisine, lunch special
- The Keg Steakhouse & Bar, 12005 N. Oracle Rd (12 miles away) – steak, fish, chicken ribs
Thank you for reading this travel nugget of knowledge about Biosphere 2 in Oracle, Arizona. This article may contain an affiliate link or two, which does not affect you in any way, but will allow Empty Nestopia to continue to bring you travel tidbits.