Sunday, March 17, 2013

  Biosphere 2

Tucson, AZ Sunday, 3/17/13:  Saturday was exhausting, but totally exhilarating.  My cousin, Dale Robinson (a retired IBM'er) and I visited Biosphere 2, the closed atmosphere experiment station north of Tucson.

  It has a fascinating history. It was originally conceived as a way to build a complete, self-sustaining world within a massive enclosure, an effort that fell 
short when it was discovered that oxygen was being absorbed to the detriment of the 8 people who hoped to spend 2 years inside with no exposure to the Biosphere 1, the atmosphere the rest of us enjoy every day.
That opened to question the ideas about building an enclosed society on a place like Mars. 

  The facility has gone through several evolutions since then.  Now owned and 
operated by the University of Arizona, a great deal of the work now focuses on Climate Change.  It's ideal for that.

  Inside are several climate zones..jungle, ocean, desert, savanna.  The tour inside covered over a mile; we climbed stairs, we descended tunnels.  We couldn't get over it.

  Notice the bamboo in the jungle.  They can cause a drought in there to see how the plants survive..or not.  The ceiling is 90 feet above the floor--and the jungle goes to the top.  There is a 25 foot deep ocean where the effects of the atmosphere (as we are making it) on coral and other sea life can be studied in real time or in time speeded up.  In the desert, they're looking at the decomposition of rock to soil.  
 To get the effects of a salt marsh, they moved one from Florida to the facility and, near the ocean, the plants filter salt and fresh water just as they did down there.  It was rescued, by the way before it was to be wiped out so someone could build a parking lot.

  And on..and on and on.  It's an enclosed world where you can see for yourself what may happen in the future if trends continue.

All of that was reasonable and understandable.
To me, the realm of the fantastic emerged when we learned how Biosphere 2 "breathes."
Caves of Wind
 We saw our first wind cave in the desert.  Air flows out of handlers in the basement, maintaining temperature, humidity .. the movement of atmosphere inside the facility.  Each environment is carefully modeled for an exact match of the outside world.  

  There are two domes flanking the can see them in the upper picture.  These are its lungs..huge, circular rooms in which massive aluminum disks weighing several tons virtually float in the air, pressing the atmosphere, maintaining  pressure throughout the connected, glassed-in laboratories.  Walking into one of those "lungs" and looking overhead is a humbling experience.  And when you practically blows you out the door.  
Flying Disk

   Incredible.  Beautiful science.  Learning by doing--discovering what we don't know..making sure we maintain what you do know and, hopefully, improve it.

   Biosphere 2, inside Biosphere 1.  

   What a marvelous day.