Biosphere 2 near Tucson in Arizona, operated by the University of Arizona, looks like a spaceship just dropped from the sky. Almost all glass, with green leaves pressing up against every side, it’s an amazing sight.
Biosphere 2 is a recreation of our planet, Biosphere 1. So, just like Earth, it has a couple of different ecosystems, such as the ocean with coral reef or a tropical rainforest. It’s an amazing experience to move from hot and humid — to cold and dry — to dry and hot — while you’re walking through the indoor tour.
Do not expect a pristine environment or theme park style amenities. This is a working research facility with active experiments in progress. If the rainforest looks dry, it’s because researchers are studying the effects of drought. If the “ocean” looks murky, it’s because they are studying how to restore coral growth and keep the ocean environment in natural balance. Biosphere 2 makes it easy to imagine what the world would look like without buildings. I think it’s definitely worth a visit if you are into science. I mean, how many chances are you going to have to walk in the largest earth science experiment in the world?
The tours run on a regular basis during the day. The basic “Under the Glass” tour leads you into all the ecosystems and to the underground technosphere. The technosphere is the 3 acre lower level that houses all the equipment necessary to keep all the temperatures regulated and the Biosphere running. The whole level is full of machinery, all doing a number of different things.
In 1991, eight researchers entered Biosphere 2 to live there and look after the environment for 2 years. They were called Biospherians. They researched the Biosphere and learned to live in it. And they were only allowed to have coffee once a month!
Biosphere 2 also has a small exhibit area that is upstairs from when you walk into building. You are standing in the main housing area where the Biospherians lived during the experiment. This museum has an exhibit on space travel. The people who are studying the Biosphere 2 are trying to figure out ways to keep something like the Biosphere in space! You can also see the places where the Biospherians lived during their time inside the Biosphere experiment. It’s really interesting to read the journal entries from actual journals of Biospherians. It gives you a whole new perspective on the way they lived and how much they had to deal with during their experiment experience.
Biosphere 2 should be on everyone’s list of places to go and experiences to have. It may not be like famous museums in New York or the Louvre in Paris, but it’s truly amazing to learn what our earth does and how we impact it, good and bad.
Things We Loved About the Tour
- My parents liked that we each got a audio player and single earbud, so we could hear our guide without having to cram up close to her. At the end of the tour, you get to keep the earbud.
- Being in the presence of history! Whether you agree/disagree with the expense or the experiment, it happened — and it’s pretty cool to be able to visit the site.
- Brings textbooks to life! The student teacher at my school mentioned attending U of A and working at Biosphere 2 when it came up in our textbook. I liked how it brought the book reading to life for me.
- Aspiring and even professional engineers will definitely get excited by all the systems in place to make Biosphere 2 liveable (especially, the technosphere).
- It shows what innovation can bring about in simple ways. For instance, they have a garden planted outside and wanted to do some experimentation with how to grow plants outdoors in this desert environment. The impacts of the sun, powering the sprinklers, pests (in the form of hungry deer) were all challenges. So one solution they came up with was installing a solar panel above some of the crops to shade them and power the sprinklers. They also installed protection agains the pests. Compared to the control plot, the new shaded plot was growing splendidly. It made an impression on me because it was so simple, yet so clever. Plus, it is a solution that’s good for the environment.
- We liked that before and after the tour, there was time for self-guided exploration of the upstairs living quarters and for walking around the outside of the building to the ocean viewing area which had the feel of an aquarium facility.
- The Lunar Greenhouse (pictured below) was upstairs in the exhibit area where they were growing: strawberries (2 varieties), cucumbers (3 varieties), sweet potatoes, lunchbox peppers, and tomatoes (3 varieties).
Biosphere 2 Tour Information
- It takes about 45 minutes to drive to the town of Oracle and the Biosphere 2 site from the Sabino Canyon area of Tucson. It would take a little less time if you are staying near the university.
- From the parking lot, you enter the visitor center and ticket purchase area.
- It is abouta five to ten minute outdoor walk to the actual Biosphere building.
- There is a cafe, but we didn’t try it. I’d recommend eating before you go.
- It’s definitely better for children ages 10 & up — and since it’s an active science experiment it’s NOT at all accessible for strollers, wheelchairs, or anyone with mobility issues.
- There is a “New Tours TV Spot” video on the Biosphere 2 website that is not very true to our experience. It shows small family groups and couples interacting with the exhibits (walking through the rainforest and putting their hands in the ocean). Maybe that happens on the family or history tour, but that does not happen on the typical Under the Glass Tour. Instead, imagine staying on a boardwalk path most of the way and going through a series of big heavy metal doors, tunnels, up & down steps, and walking up and down ramps in cramped spaces before ending your tour outdoors.
- Ticket information is on the Biosphere 2 website.