Ecological test project, a ‘planet in a bottle’, in Arizona, USA. Under a sealed glass and metal dome, different habitats are recreated, with representatives of nearly 4,000 species, to test the effects that various environmental factors have on ecosystems. Simulated ecosystems, or ‘mesocosms’, include savannah, desert, rainforest, marsh, and Caribbean reef. The response of such systems to elevated atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide gas (CO2 ) are among the priorities of Biosphere 2 researchers.
Experiments with biospheres that contain relatively simple life forms have been carried out for decades, and a 21-day trial period in 1989 that included humans preceded the construction of BS2. However, BS2 is not in fact the second in a series: the Earth is considered to be Biosphere 1.
Originally, people (called ‘Biospherians’) were sealed in the dome. They were self-sufficient, except for electricity, which was supplied by a 3.7-megawatt power station on the outside (solar panels were considered too expensive). The original team of eight in residence 1991-93 was replaced in March 1994 with a new team of seven people sealed in for six and a half months. In 1995, it was decided that further research would not involve sealing people within the biosphere. Researchers and students routinely go in and out of the Biosphere 2 facility.
The facility has been open to the public for limited access and over 2 million people have visited Biosphere 2 since the early 1990s. Public access was expanded on 9 February 2004 to fully open the site to the public as a tourist attraction.
Biosphere 2 was originally run by a private company partly funded by ecology-minded oil millionaire Edward P Bass and was called Space Biosphere Ventures. Space Biosphere Ventures investors expected to find commercial applications for the techniques developed in the course of the project. As of 1 January 1996 Columbia University, USA, joined Space Biosphere Ventures to form Biosphere 2 Center, Inc. The purpose of the joint venture was to use the facility for conferences and classes as well as further short-term experiments with the artificial ecosystems that do not involve isolating humans inside.
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