Currently owned by the University of Arizona, this research facility was originally built to be a closed ecosystem. Today, it is dedicated to the study of ecology and atmospheric science.
Biosphere 2 – The First and Second Mission
Biosphere 2 is an American earth science center based in Phoenix, Arizona. Its mission is to be a hub for international student-base, research, teaching, and worldwide learning about Earth, its structure, living systems, and our place in it. The International Student Exchange (ISE) is a collaboration of six universities – the University of Arizona, the University of California – Berkeley, the University of British Columbia, the University of Cambridge, and University of Illinois at Champaign. Over one million international students visit the United States annually to study abroad, many of whom become university and college scholars.
The principal research areas of the Biosphere 2 are Global Change, Energy, Environment, Biological Science, Geology, Planetary Science, and Education. In recent years, a biosphere test module has been developed and is currently being used in Australia. This test module has been successful in determining that carbon dioxide is the primary driver behind global warming.
Global change refers to the gradual deterioration of environmental systems over time. It is also commonly referred to as global environmental change, global environmental disturbance, or global change due to human intervention. Examples of global changes caused by humans include habitat encroachment and degradation, air, land, and water pollution, species extinction, glaciers melting, super volcanoes eruption, and global warming. When considered in light of current environmental concerns, biosphere 2 was selected as one of the premier study abroad venues in attendance during the 2021 Trends in International Students Study Abroad Symposium (TIDS).
Many students chose this study abroad program because it offers an interdisciplinary approach to learning, with the focus on ecology, global change, astronomy, and mathematics. One major focus of the program is to increase students knowledge and expertise in Earth science, particularly in sustainability and conservation planning. The research projects will include examining how to restore or replenish ecosystems after natural disasters; how to better protect biodiversity; how to promote economic growth and economic development in developing countries; and how to create economic centers of excellence. As part of the Ecolette program (the United States Environmental Protection Agency), biosphere 2 will also study how to use natural processes and forces to reduce global warming, while preserving and enhancing the earths environment. A major component of this study will be investigating the effects of increasing CO2 levels on the earths atmosphere, and the impact this has on global temperatures, precipitation, ice melt, clouds, and super-abrasive winds.
Students participating in the study abroad in Biosphere 2 will study the dynamics of the agricultural land use within the boundaries of the biosphere. The primary focus areas of the agricultural area include cropland farming, pasture grassland, alfalfa cropping, vineyards, and the rice field. Other ecosystems included within the study areas will include the urbanized communities, small lakes, rivers, creeks, ponds, lakes, and wetlands. The project’s long term goal is to improve ecological efficiency through the management and assessment of the existing agricultural land use in and around the biosphere.
The second mission of the biosphere project will focus on the study of the effect of climate change on the biogeochemical production and storage of carbon dioxide. Global warming is believed to be one of the major contributors to the death and depletion of the earths natural sources of energy, including fossil fuels and oxygen. This is a major concern as it is a leading cause of global change and environmental pollution. To address this problem, the biosphere project will examine the effects of climate change on the photosynthesis of the soil microbial community, focusing on both the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles. By studying these two critical life-giving resources in tandem, the study hopes to develop a deeper understanding of how climate change affects the sustainability of a ecosystem.
The third and final part of the research involves the study of the relationship between the biogeochemical cycling in the soil and the development of the microorganisms that inhabit the agricultural area. This area has been recently termed as the “bone of the tree” for a reason, as the entire structure is comprised of bone, including all of the living parts such as roots, limbs, and even the reproductive organs of the biosphere. Because of this unique environment, it is difficult for any other type of organism to grow. As such, the study of the relationship between the biogeochemical cycles, the development of the microorganisms within the soil, and the development of the crops that make up the agricultural area will help to solve the issues that have been highlighted throughout the first and second phases of the research.
In the second and third phase of the study, the team will focus on the study of the effects of climate change on the oxygen dynamics in the soil. How will the climate change impact on the quantity and quality of the oxygen? How will it affect the amount of sunlight absorbed and the efficiency with which the plants can utilize the sunlight? Will the soil’s capacity to provide for growing crops be affected? And most importantly, will the biosphere 2 soil products still prove to be viable and effective after the testing is complete? If so, then they will have proved their worth.