Sunrise Rotary Club learns about Biosphere 2


John Adams, Deputy Director, Biosphere 2

It’s been over ten years since the University of Arizona (UA) took over Biosphere 2 (B2) — a time of incredible growth and evolution, though many still know Biosphere 2 simply as home to the world-famous, closed-system experiment of the 1990s. That project taught us many things; one of the most important takeaways was how little Earth systems are understood and their interconnectedness. It’s that frontier that Biosphere 2 has been shedding light on ever since.

Today Biosphere 2 stands as a global leader in research to better understand our planet and resources. Its seven model ecosystems make up the world’s largest living laboratory, providing the formerly missing link between Earth systems theory, experimentation and measurable outcomes. With Biosphere 2’s unique size and design, researchers are doing studies that can be done nowhere else on Earth.

Many of these studies converge on one important super-question: How can we optimize food, water and energy for the long game, protecting while also making use of our amazing planet as its population surges towards 11 billion by the end of the century? I’m the first to say we have a long way to go. But I’m also inspired by the progress we’re making.

*Biosphere 2 Research teams have built the Landscape Evolution Observatory (LEO), the world’s largest laboratory experiment in the interdisciplinary Earth sciences, so that researchers can ask how physical and biological processes interactively control the amount and quality of water.

*Agriculture experts are using Biosphere 2 as home to a space-bound greenhouse, testing vertical farming technologies for growing nutritious food in artificial light with little water.

Those are just a few examples of the exciting science happening at Biosphere 2 now; it has also been the subject of media coverage the world over: National Geographic Channel, the Travel Channel, Discover Magazine and Science Magazine, BBC World Service, the New York Times, NPR and Arizona Public Media are but a few.

Another critical Biosphere 2 mission: expanding science literacy by helping more people understand more about science and why it matters. Biosphere 2 has welcomed nearly a million visitors and 100,000 K-12 students since the UA assumed operations. Importantly, Biosphere 2 is now a place where everyone gets hands-on interaction with active research.

Under UA leadership, Biosphere 2 has partnered with more than 50 organizations, from research and advocacy groups like the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Renewable Energy Lab to private industry (Raytheon, IBM) to colleges and universities around the world — luminaries like Harvard, Cal Poly and the National Autonomous University of Mexico as well as campuses that greatly expand access to higher education, including Pima Community College and Central Arizona College.

It can be difficult to measure the impact of research, outreach and partnerships. Fortunately, there are other data points easily measured. Biosphere 2 research has produced more than 100 peer-reviewed journal articles, and in the past five years pulled in more than $13M in grants. The Conference Center, hosting corporate meetings, science workshops and special events, has grossed $18M under UA management.

Won’t you join SaddleBrooke Sunrise Rotary Club in making a difference? We meet every Thursday at noon in the Catalina Room next to the Mesquite Grill. Please contact Ron Lenz, membership chair, at 262-358-0130.