In the heart of the Arizona desert, UCSB professor emeritus Daniel Botkin’s innovative project lives on.
Botkin served as one of the original advisors for Biosphere 2, a massive earth-in-a-bottle that faced controversy surrounding its creators’ attempt to create a self-contained environment. Ranked as one of the 50 man-made wonders of the world by Life Books, Biosphere 2 is contained within 7,200,000 cubic feet of sealed glass and steel. Inspired by Biosphere 1 — also known as Planet Earth — the facility had two closure experiments between 1991 and 1994 with people living in a test-tube environment to experiment with survivability.
Today, the biodome serves as a University of Arizona research facility.
Botkin, former chairman of the UCSB Environmental Studies Program, initially began working with NASA to build toward developing long-term space travel and sustainability through trials conducted in Biosphere 2.
“We were advising NASA about working with ecological problems with space travel,” Botkin said.
Over 20 years and $200 million later, the biosphere is now focused more on the mechanics of plant life in Arizona’s climate rather than discovering how the ecosystems of Earth behave and interact, according to the Biosphere 2 Web site. Built on over three arid acres in Oracle, Arizona, Biosphere 2 is a project aimed at discovering Earth’s life systems, as well as the future of the planet across a variety of disciplines.
In 1991, Botkin said the biosphere became an endeavor by scientists dedicated to testing human life among the various ecosystems, including a rain forest, a swamp and an ocean with coral reefs.
“We proposed that they should have eight people living in there for two years,” Botkin said.
However, problems soon amassed for the crew inside. A lack of oxygen and a dangerous increase in carbon dioxide levels threatened the lives of the inhabitants.
In 1993, the Federal Government forced the researchers out of the biosphere when the project proved too controversial. Biosphere 2 was consequently taken over by Columbia University in 1995 and more emphasis was placed on ecological and environmental research.
According to the Web site, the mission of the project is to eliminate the barriers between science and everyday practical purposes in society.
Currently, Biosphere 2 functions primarily as a research institution and conducts daily group tours. Ongoing studies include examining how plants alter their environment through water loss, as well as tracking a plant’s vulnerability to drought.
The new biosphere is equipped with mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems in a sealed basement known as the technosphere, according to the Web site. Of the 26 air handlers, 14 are housed within the technosphere filter work to heat and cool air entering the biosphere to sustain the organisms living within the system.