Biosphere II
An Environmental Experiment

Oracle, Az

January 13th, 2001

Some ten years ago, Edward Bass had a dream. It was a really wild dream involving the environment and human endurance. Ed believed that life on Earth is self-regulating, that is, air, water and soil are recycled and purified by the natural processes that sustain life. His dream was to prove this theory beyond any doubt by building a structure capable of sustaining human life indefinitely, such as would be needed in a space colony on another planet. The difference between his dream and many of ours was that Ed Bass was a Texas millionaire, and could afford his. So one day he went out into the Arizona desert and built an environmentally sealed greenhouse, which became known as Biosphere II, biosphere I being the Earth itself. The thought, design, and engineering that went into this project rivals any science fiction story told today. Out of the sand grew a giant glass-domed structure, glistening in the desert sun. Completely sealed off from all outside air, and water, this 91 foot high structure, covering some 3.15 acres, using 6000 glass panels to enclose the 7.l2 million cubic feet which made up the world within. Standing as a planet unto itself, it would finally house over 3,500 plants and animals, spread out over the five eco systems that it supported. Into this world was built all manner of things, plants, crops, even an ocean complete with a tide. Such was the detailed design. The final element was added on September 26, 1991 when 4 men and 4 women entered the structure and were sealed inside for two years. The story of their triumphs and failures, and the controversies it raised are still told today. Criticized by the scientific community because of the use of outside electricity, some food stores and other feed, the experiment struggled on for two years when oxygen ran short and had to be brought in from the outside. The controversy would rage on until Ed Bass abandoned his effort to create a self-sustained human environment in 1995. The building was acquired by Columbia University of New York who has operated it ever since. Today the original building still stands, now surrounded by a scientific community, hotel and restaurant. We had arranged to meet with David Nivison, Director of Marketing on a bright and sunny afternoon. David extended a gracious invitation to tour the facility. He stayed with us for a while explaining some of the history and the present experiments that were going on. They now use parts of the building for environmental experiments. One of the examples is the area that contains many Cottonwood Trees. These trees were cloned from the same tree so that they would all react the same. One area contains the same Carbon Dioxide that would have existed several years ago. Another one contains the Carbon Dioxide that might be on the earth 50 years from now. They can also alter the temperatures, light, rainfall, etc. In the rest of the buildings, they allow visitors to either tour on their own or take tours provided by the institute. As part of the University, there are approximately 100 students there from all over the world doing research work for which they will get credits from Columbia. The tour we took allowed us to go "behind the scenes". It was here that we made friends with an effervescent and wonderfully knowledgeable lady who supplied us with all kinds of facts and figures about the past and present conditions of the Biosphere II. Jane Taber stayed with us all the way through the tour. We went down into the basement area and were able to see the inner workings.

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