Monday, December 31, 2018

Another Visit to Biosphere2

Odometer  64383
Trip miles today  0

Joan and I visited the Biosphere2 in Oracle, AZ on a trip through Tucson in 2012 and it was impressive!  Our good friend Kermit had not seen it yet and I was more than happy to accompany him on a tour.  The ladies had there own agenda, so Kermit and I set out early one morning for  a tour.

Rainforest dome in Biosphere2
We both signed up for the "Under the Dome" tour which is a general overview of the whole structure.  There are specialty tours for the Ocean, and a History tour available also.  In case you are wondering why is is named Bioshpere2, the Earth itself is considered to be Biosphere1- the original.

Tropical Rainforest Biosphere2
I was interested in how the tours may have changed since my last visit.  The tour sequence is the same; Rainforest, Ocean, Fog Desert, Basement mechanical equipment, and Lung.  The thing that was different this time was we had a fantastic tour guide named Taylor, and the fact that we all had wireless hearing devices and could hear every word even though we were in a fairly large group, and sometimes strung out along walkways and corridors.

The Ocean

The Biosphere was originally devised to determine if a crew of humans could be sealed off from the rest of the world, and make everything they needed for survival, air, water and food.
The first inhabitants were sealed in for two years from 1991 to 1993.  While the experiment did not meet all its goals, it was not a failure at all.   Towards the end of the 2 years additional oxygen had to be introduced to the system.  It was discovered that the concrete used extensively in the construction, was absorbing much more oxygen that originally calculated.
Today Bioshpere2 is owned and operated by the University of Arizona and the system is still turning out useful research.

The ocean is being used to study the restoration of coral reefs in an era of ocean acidification.  Much of the excess CO2 in our atmosphere is absorbed by the ocean.  The carbon reacts with salt water to form an acid.  Acid is destroying our coral.  This small ocean ecosystem is home to coral types that show resistance to acidification, and a breeding program has been started.

Growing food with fish poo

One interesting bit of research involves a somewhat closed system that uses a fish tank with live fish, and circulating the water from the aquarium into neighboring plant beds.  The nutrients (poo) from the aquarium become plant food and the clear water is pumped back tot he aquarium.

Fog Desert
The desert biome under the glass never worked quite right, because the glass overhead dripped too much condensation.  The desert was re-designated a "fog desert" because of this.  I noticed all the familiar Sonoran cacti and shrubs seemed very happy here.

From the desert, the tour group descended into the basement below the vivarium where some of the magic happens.

Ventilation and water handling equipment

There is a basement under the ground floor of the dome that houses the air handling and water management systems that help the enclosed systems work.  Down here water is collected and redistributed, and air of different temperatures are mixed as needed and re-distributed.  Bioshpere2 always produced more clean water that was needed- much of the excess was stored here in large tanks.

Although the Biosphere was a completely sealed system, it was not energy neutral.  The original plan was for the Biosphere to have solar panels to cover all its energy needs, but cost over-runs rendered that idea unworkable.  Electricity from the grid runs all this equipment.

Olla watering system

One very neat idea that I will be taking with me from my visit here is the concept of Olla  watering for plants.  (pronounced oh-yah)
Our guides showed us these plants growing in plastic 55 gallon drums.  The plants get all their water from the olla that is partially submerged in the soil.  An olla is an unglazed terracotta pot with a small opening at the top.  Water added to the pot has almost no evaporation, but is readily available to the roots of your intended plants.  The plants get all the water they need an very little is wasted.
The olla shown here is simply two flower pots glued together and the hole in the bottom pot is sealed shut- the top hole has a temporary cover (a rock).

More than you ever wanted to know.  😏

Your Traveling Friends

Jeff and Joan

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