Arizona  (Biosphere 2)

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Starting on Sunday, September 29, 2002, 5:33:18 PM

The deserts of Arizona are such a neat place to see. You could look across the desert and think that there is no life at all in this vast wasteland. However that may seem, it is totally not true. There are so many different varieties of plants and animals that can be seen, it just astonishes me. We sometimes have to just look through different eyes. I can sit in front of my uncle's house and watch as the rabbits and quail and many other animals play amongst the cactus. As we think of habitats fit to live in we think of nice areas with plenty of vegetation and water and food. However, people have been living in desolate and barren areas throughout the world for thousands of years. And some quite proficient at their survival in these harsh environments.

One thing that is always striking about this part of the country to me is the Saguaro cactus. These amazing cactus stand out tall amongst the landscape. I remember passing through this area when I was young and seeing so many more than there is today. Something drastic must have happened to them over the years. I believe I recall hearing something about a disease that almost devastated these plants that take so long to grow. Then I had also heard stories that so many people had been knocking them down and digging them up for so many years that it severely affecting the survival of this desert icon.

Survival of our planet is essential for our descendants and generations to come. What we are doing now is directly affecting how they will have to live and deal with what we have done to the planet thus far. We must be so very conscious of everything we do and consider how it will affect our environment in the years to come. Do we care what happens after we, ourselves die? Maybe not, but are we not still cursing our ancestors for some of the things that they had done throughout history? How many buffalo are left to roam the great plains? How many cultures and species have we wiped out with our ignorance? All these questions go over and over in my head as I ponder the future of this world.

So now on to the next step of my journey. A trip to the Biosphere 2. Many people ask, "So if that is the Biosphere 2, then where is the Biosphere 1?" Which you must stop to think about and you will have the answer yourself. We are standing on it. The Biosphere 2 was built with the attempt to duplicate an environment just like our own planet. A contained biosphere, supporting all the life that we know of. Of course the Biosphere 2 could not contain everything but it was built with the idea to explore and study a totally enclosed ecosystem. To duplicate, as much as possible, an environment that does work. Then we can study and see how we can try to help maintain it ourselves or possibly build more in the future. I watched a neat little film before exploring the biosphere. It was narrated by William Shatner and explained quite a bit about the biosphere and its history and intent. Just recently the project and facility has been taken over by the Columbia University to study and provide an amazing research facility.

The following images show a neat scale model of the facility. 

Nestled at the foot of the Arizona mountains makes for a dramatic backdrop.

Of course, as many of you know, the biosphere experiment had failed several years back. A group of scientists were sealed inside for two years with the plan to be able to maintain their own food supply and survive, totally cut off from the rest of the world. They thought that the experiment had failed but instead they learned so much more that they had not taken into consideration. The group almost starved because their food supply was running out. Later they discovered why. The facility was totally surrounded by glass panels to let in the necessary sunlight for all the plant life. Unfortunately all this glass and structure had to be supported by something, which is all the lattice white tubing and framework that you see. Tons of pipe was fitted together to support the whole structure without any internal beams for support. Unfortunately all this frame blocked and diffused some of the light. After more studies and investigation it was determined that the framework was actually blocking more than 54% of the sunlight. This would later explain the reason that the plant life did not flourish as hoped. 

However the initial experiment turned out, it provided us with much more information to ponder. Any failure to any endeavor definitely and ultimately teaches us in other ways. Thus paving the way for more ideas and theories to explore.

Inside many of the greenhouses there are lots of plants from all over the world. You can walk through many of these buildings, not directly connected to the main facility, and see some of the amazing different wonders that we never get the chance to witness in our own little corners of the globe. The Columbia University has taken hold of an incredible concept and is taking it to a totally new level.

The whole original structure still stands and supports the foundation of this new step in this  fantastic research facility.

The front of the biosphere shown here is the area that originally housed the inhabitants. With a communal kitchen and exercise area and then the individual apartments, it seemed like a very modern and comfortable environment to live in with all the amenities. I was actually quite impressed with how fancy the place looked. I thought that I, myself, could live there for quite some time. Of course not being allowed to leave, at all, to go anywhere, might get a little unnerving. They were allowed to watch TV and talk on the phone and communicate much the same way as we do, but still within the confines of the sealed ecosystem. Then the next challenge would be to get along with such a small group of people for so long. As it turns out the original group did actually have some difficulties getting along. 

I heard that they didn't even stay in touch after they were released back into the wild.

Looking out across inside some of the structure you can see the shadows cast by the framework that reveals, now so obvious, the demise of the mission. With more research in progress they have closed, partitioned and somewhat isolated many different sections of the biosphere to perform various experiments.

From the outside it gives an amazing perspective of the vast nature of this endeavor. (heh, heh "nature") There below in the second image you can see one of the buildings that they called a lung. So many things had to be considered when taking on a project of this magnitude. With a totally sealed and enclosed environment, measures had to be taken to count for the changes in air pressure within the structure. As the various different temperatures had to change outside the biosphere, so they also did on the inside, creating a fluctuation of expansion. As we all know, when air or a gas is warmed it expands, then as it cools it contracts. If it were not for these so called "lungs" the glass on the outside of the structure would surely blow off or collapse. Inside of the two huge dome-like buildings is a large bladder. As the pressure changes inside of the biosphere is it then transferred back and forth through tunnels underneath and then to these domes where it can then be stored and released and controlled, maintaining a consistent pressure within the structure. Something that I hoped wasn't an afterthought. How embarrassing that would have been when they closed the doors and two hours later all the windows popped out.

Across the way and up on a hill is the observatory. Housed in this little dome is an extra to the biosphere, a powerful telescope for exploring the stars above and taking advantage of Arizona's almost constant clear skies.

Walking around the biosphere provides a certain wonder and curiosity. An almost futuristic look. You can look through the windows and see plants and flowers, almost like your looking into a different world. 

At one time the biosphere housed quite an assortment of small animals but they have since then been removed for various reasons.

However, in the sea world there still remains an assortment of fish and sea life for the different experiments that they perform there. There at the beach you can look down and watch the various types of fish as they swim by.

Then you can also go downstairs and explore, through the glass, and watch from a better vantage point. The aquarium is pretty neat and shows quite a bit of marine life.

All in all, the Biosphere 2 was an incredible adventure and surely a learning experience and helps me along my journey to respect nature and the sensitive balance of life that we have on this planet.

It never ceases to amaze me how very fortunate we are to live on such an incredible planet as we do. With everything at our fingertips we can just push a button and it changes. Sometimes drastic. I look at the universe and see all the conditions that make it possible for life to survive on this planet. Then I can see how very sensitive life can actually be, from a global standpoint. With only a slight change in our orbit or rotation around the sun and life could cease to exist completely. 

But then, on the other hand. I look at the world and see how very durable life is. At the same time that it takes such intricate conditions for life to thrive it can also endure such harsh and drastic elements. We look and see the desert and how the ecosystem there thrives and at the same time we can go to Antarctica and witness life in unfathomable conditions. It surely is a magical thing that we have here on this planet. We can change things around and often times the ecology can spring back and manage to maintain life. Then other times, when we're not looking, we can totally wipe out a species with a seemingly innocent act. Even sometimes intentionally trying to help, we can accidentally destroy life. It is truly a very delicate balance of nature that we hold at our fingertips. We just need to learn how to push the right buttons to make it all work and continue to work to our benefit as well as our planet and for generations to come. 

It is our world. We can choose whether or not to waste it, or save it. I say that we should all walk a little more lightly, look around and cherish all the little things that this world has to offer. To treat it as a precious gift and appreciate it. 

After all, it is the only home we currently have at our "disposal". 

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