Biosphere 2: Earth experiments in the Arizona desert

Aug 29, 2011 at 5:37 p.m. ET

While it's now less of a center of scientific discovery and more a curiosity -- the huge, man-made terrarium for people is still a sight to see... if you are willing to go out into the middle of the Arizona desert to find it!


The human experiment

Built as a research facility for two major experiments ("missions" that were carried out between 1991 and 1994), the Biosphere 2 is open even now to visitors, while still housing some experiments.

Nestled at the base of the Santa Catalina mountains to the north of Tucson, the Biosphere facility itself measures 3.14 acres, and has 6,500 windows, which contain 7,200,000 cubic feet of space within. B2, as it's known, was constructed for more than $200 million and has an estimated replacement value of more than $1 billion. While its missions were not considered the greatest successes, they have inspired more ideas and ecological experiments (and even one low-budget movie -- BioDome, starring Pauly Shore).

Inside Biosphere

Some of the ecosystems under glass that the Biosphere 2 features include:

  • Ocean with coral reef
  • Tropical rainforest
  • Savannah grassland
  • Fog desert
  • Mangrove wetlands

Under new management

As of July 1, 2011, the Biosphere 2 facility officially became the property of the University of Arizona.

"This ability to commit facilities to long-term research is unique and of significant value to tackling the big questions in Earth science, hydrology and ecology," said Robert N. Shelton, UA President. "Our goal is to build a national center that leads the nation in water research, Earth science and climate adaptation, and the Biosphere 2 enterprise represents an important step toward that goal." Bill Harris, head of the Science Foundation Arizona, agrees. "The B2 is a unique asset for research and education for Arizona and really, the world."

Also see:

About Biosphere 2

Address: 32540 S. Biosphere Road, Oracle Arizona 85623