Aaron Bugaj – Biosphere 2: A Case Study
Aaron Bugaj, Research Specialist, Landscape Evolution Observatory, Biosphere 2, University of Arizona
Biosphere 2 is the largest closed ecosystem ever created. A hybrid eco-technical system, the facility was originally designed as a long-term laboratory for studying global ecology and for advancing technologies for long-term space life support systems. The design of this large sealed mesocosm consisted of five distinct biomes including a rainforest, savannah, desert, ocean, and marsh plus an agricultural area for growing crops and a human habitat that housed eight “Biospherians” in its initial 2-year human closure experiment. While locked inside, the crew planted, raised, harvested and cooked their own food, recycled their own wastes, maintained their infrastructure, tended and studied the natural biomes. The crew experienced a multitude of challenges including increased carbon dioxide, depleted oxygen levels, low crop yields resulting in low caloric intake, internal tension within the crew, and external tension between management staff. While the closed human experiment phase of Biosphere 2 has long been over, the facility is now used for modern day geoscience and ecosystem dynamics experiments at landscape scales using the existing infrastructure and climate control capabilities from the original design.
Today, as a case study, Biosphere 2 can serve as a looking glass into the complex socio-ecological systems that we encounter within our own natural biosphere, allowing us to shed light on the same contradictions and challenges that we run into when we attempt to steer and manage our own complex systems from within. How do our systems interventions compromise and undermine the self-organization of the system as a whole? Is that something we can anticipate before we intervene? What principles can Biosphere 2 teach us for the design and management of novel, synthetic living systems?
While the closed human experiment phase of Biosphere 2 has long been over, the facility is now used for modern day geoscience and ecosystem dynamics experiments at landscape scales using the existing infrastructure and climate control capabilities from the original design.
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