The biosphere is the layer of the Earth which encompasses all life, from the highest parts of the atmosphere where birds can fly to the deep depths of the oceans. It contains everything life needs to survive: air, water, energy from the Sun…etc. The other Earth layers are the atmosphere (air), hydrosphere (water) and the lithosphere (rock).
The Biosphere 2 is an ecological and Earth sciences research facility in the middle of the desert in Oracle,AZ originally founded by Space Biosphere Ventures. It is a glass and steel structure similar to a large greenhouse which replicates of the Earth’s biosphere under closed conditions. Inside it has everything; oceans, deserts, rainforests and everything other living environment you can think of that naturally exists on the Earth.
Its original purpose was to gain experimental data that could be used to create similar structures in space where humans and other life could survive for log periods of time. It was also to learn about sustainable living and living in captivity. The experiment consisted of 8 humans , called bionauts, living within the Biosphere 2 for two years.
As glorious as this experiment sounds, it turned out to be a complete failure and was heavily ridiculed by the press at the time. Many things went wrong, but here are three:
1. The Biosphere 2 was meant to be self-sustaining just as our own biosphere is, however after 18 months the oxygen levels dropped so much that the bionauts hand trouble breathing and functioning. The project managers ended up having to pump oxygen into the system. There was also a quick build up of carbon dioxide gas, due to microorganisms in the soils metabolising at higher rates that normal.
2. Many of the other living species died out before the two years passed. Every single insect species died, which caused problems for the plants which needed some of these insects for pollination. This also had an effect on the bionauts’ food supplies in which they had to put more effort into keeping.
3. Internal disputes between the bionauts themselves arose.
Now , the Biosphere 2 is owned by the University of Arizona where they conduct university experiments and where visitors can take tours and learn more about the project and its mission.
Some highlights from the rest of the week!
Monday Sept 22 1956 – The English chemist and physicist who came up with the idea of isotopes, Frederick Soddy ,passed away. He theorised that atoms of the same element with different atomic masses were able to occupy the same place on the periodic table.
Tuesday Sept 23 1846- Neptune was discovered by the German astronomer, Johnann G. Galle. The planet was hypothesised to exist due to influences on Uranus’ motion with its gravity. Its position was mathematically predicted by Urbain Le Verrier and was found by Galle 1° off of the predicted position!
Wednesday Sept 24 2006- NASA records the largest hole in the Earth’s ozone layer over Antartica. Ozone is essential to life on Earth because it absorbs some of the harmful UV rays from the sun. This revelation prompted us to be more conscious of the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Thursday Sept 25 1956- The first transatlantic telephone cable began operation. It was designed to link the United States and Canada to the United Kingdom and is considered a huge breakthrough in telecommunications as we know it today.