My childhood environmentalist phase never faded, so visiting Biosphere 2 with my family had me animated like a grade-schooler. Our visit might also have been arranged with the hope that I would inspire my children’s interest in life science. I would love to see them become little earth scientists and early engineers and appreciate along with me the chance to visit a rainforest, an ocean, a savannah, and a coastal fog desert right in the middle of the Oro Valley, near Tucson, Arizona.
Biosphere 2 has changed in the quarter of a century after the first experiment began. At our visit, we found that the system designed to “breathe” and maintain air pressure using two engineered lungs was no longer in use, but is still fascinating to observe. Living systems, like the mangroves that filter impurities, still support the ecosystem like kidneys. When eight scientists entered the indoor habitats for a two-year experiment, they had animals from goats to primates. Now, the only fauna includes just a few fish, insects and some native birds (and probably reptiles) that found their way in.
This isn’t just a tourist attraction; research is ongoing and on display. Our guide talked about a few of the current research projects, such as the space greenhouse, the recycled water garden, and the largest earth science experiment in the world, the LEO (landscape evolution observatory), managed by the scientists of the University of Arizona.
The tour guide was very patient with my kids’ many questions, answering every one. Though the tour was not rigorous, it is a 90-minute, 1-mile walk with 150 stairs and narrow doorway (not wheelchair accessible). By the end, my 5 year old’s legs were tired. We still pressed on to the self-guided portion to see the ocean view windows, plans for revitalizing the ocean to mimic the Sea of Cortez, and a reported “tiny submarine,” which was really just a photo op.
We returned to our car happy with our day-trip destination that felt like discovering a little world. Biosphere 2 is open most days of the year and runs tours throughout the day.