Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of Biosphere 2
This year the revolutionary laboratory on earth sciences, Biosphere 2, is celebrating its 25th Anniversary. The initial experiment began in September of 1991 when eight pioneering individuals were enclosed inside of its glass walls for two years. The existence of Biosphere 2 and the research conducted there continue to gain attention, as it fuels understanding of planetary systems and calls attention to the realities of our circumstances on the original Biosphere, the Earth.
In 1993, in the first moments when the human experiment was coming to a close, the biospherians re-entered the outside world after two years of stewardship in their enclosed home. Mark Nelson, who managed the wetland sewage treatment system inside of Biosphere 2, shared a few words on the experience:
Mark Nelson in the wastewater treatment marsh of Biosphere 2. Photo from biospherics.org
“We’ve come out of another world. Through that thin airlock there is another world living… What’s been surprising and profoundly wonderful is that operating Biosphere 2 has changed the way I operate my organism. To live in a small world and be conscious of its controls, its beauty, its fragility, its bounty and its limits changes who you are.”
–Mark Nelson, PhD, one of the original Biospherians and author of The Wastewater Gardener: Preserving the Planet One Flush at a Time
Several recent articles have revisited the story of Biosphere 2, while highlighting the role that the facility continues to play in inspiring a new generation to be ecologically minded.
“Many older generations know of us thanks to the experiments conducted in the early 1990s,” explains John Adams, deputy director of Biosphere 2. “But we really want to engage with the younger generations.”
The experiments Adams refers to are two missions which saw a team of scientists seal themselves inside the laboratory. The first mission garnered the most column inches; four men and four women entered Biosphere 2 in 1991, vowing to stay inside the lab for two years, without any physical contact in the outside world. The team hoped to demonstrate the viability of closed ecosystems in maintaining human life, and also explore how such a closed biosphere could be used in space colonisation.
–Huffington Post UK
Flowing Through Changes Over Time
Whenever there’s an experiment at Biosphere 2, it’s a big experiment. This summer, Biosphere 2 will be home to the largest study ever conducted on how water moves through a landscape.
Photo credit: Gil Kenny
Water is clearly vital to life, but so are the minerals and nutrients it picks up as it flows through rocks and soil. This process, called weathering, underlies everything else in an ecosystem, including microbes, plants, animals, agriculture and how the landscape changes over time. . . .
“Chemical weathering is the first thing you need in order to form a habitable planet,” says Dixon. But the process is still not well understood.
That’s where Biosphere 2 comes in.
Although weathering has been studied in laboratories, there is no other laboratory that can compare in providing such large-scale conditions with the benefit of being a controlled atmosphere.
. . . the University of Arizona is transforming part of the site into a “Land Evolution Observatory”—a 10-year, $5 million project to study how vegetation, topography and other factors affect the movement of rainwater through watershed to drinking water.
The substantial site provides a unique opportunity to see how water moving over the land causes changes over time on a real-world scale.
Living in Harmony at the Heart of Biosphere 2
Aside from serving as fertile ground for conducting scientific research on how water and soils operate, Biosphere 2 provides an experimental mirror for the way humanity relates to the Earth. John Allen, the inventor, conceiver and co-founder of the Biosphere 2 project provided an unparalleled opportunity to reflect on our own lifestyles. He spoke at the re-entry ceremony, when the eight people who had dedicated two years of their lives to the ambitious project emerged back into the larger atmosphere of the biosphere that we all share.
John Allen inside the Biosphere 2 test greenhouse. Photo Copyright: © Peter Menzel www.menzelphoto.com
“The biospherians have shown in practice for the past two years the do-ability of a comprehensive code of ethical behavior in a new area in which we can no longer depend on the aesthetic interests of the few or the economic interests of the many to maintain proper behavior in humanity’s relationship to the very basis of our life, to the biosphere. The eight biospherians ate, slept, worked, dreamed, enjoyed and suffered, in short existed in harmony with their biosphere. Their biosphere flourished with their way of life, they recycled their food, their wastes, their water, their air. They protected biodiversity and enhanced the beauty of their landscapes. Their own bodies purified and their biosphere sparkles undimmed without a ghost-like fog of smog. They lived with high tech instrumentation and communications but in a non-destructive, ecotechnic way… Sophistication and love of wilderness blended and fulfilled their dreams. I appreciate the biospherians’ skill in operations, their integrity in research, their zest for exploration but I honor them for their ethical achievement, achieved at no small cost to their immediate gratifications, for having done what they perceived they ought to do.”
–John Allen, Inventor, Conceiver and Co-Founder of Biosphere 2, author of Me and the Biospheres: A Memoir by the Inventor of Biosphere 2
To celebrate the 25th Anniversary of Biosphere 2, we’re offering a 25% discount on The Wastewater Gardener: Preserving the Planet One Flush at a Time, Me and the Biospheres: A Memoir by the Inventor of Biosphere 2, Life Under Glass: The Inside Story of Biosphere 2 as well as our other significant biospheric titles such as Geochemistry and the Biosphere: Essays by Vladimir Vernadsky, The Anthropocene: The Human Era and How it Shapes Our Lives, What Has Nature Ever Done for Us? How Money Really Does Grow on Trees
Use coupon code Bio25 at checkout from our Synergetic Bookstore for 25% off of these important ecological books!
An Architectural Overview of Biosphere 2
And to read more on history of biospherics, the creation of Biosphere 2, and its continuing legacy from an architectural point of view, check out this paper written by Antonino Di Raimo, Architect PhD, Dean of Architecture at POLIS University from Tirana Architecture Week.
Allowing the Unknowable: The experience of Biosphere 2
Forty Years of Ecology, Adventure and Radical Cultural Innovation
Mark Nelson examining a small-scale closed ecological system. COPYRIGHT:© Peter Menzel 1990
Mark Nelson’s forty years as a pioneer in ecological systems and space life support science, along with his natural skills as raconteur—promise an evening of memorable tales and hard-won understanding. You can join Mark for this event Monday, June 13 at 6.00 pm at the October Gallery in London.
Whether appearing in a satellite broadcast to one billion people worldwide when exiting the storied Biosphere 2 mini-world’s 2-year experiment, doggedly pick-axing invasive species from 5,000 acres in the Kimberley, or designing an ecological waste treatment system in war-torn Iraq—this evening of Nelson’s unique history as Chairman of Institute of Ecotechnics (www.ecotechnics.edu) will be a very special event.
Nelson was a member of the first team of “biospherians” 1991-93 inside Biosphere 2, in Arizona. He is associate editor of Life Sciences in Space Research and organises sessions at COSPAR and other space science conferences. In 1987, he was an organiser of the first international conference on closed systems, held at the Royal Society. His books include: Space Biospheres (with John Allen), Life Under Glass: the Inside Story of Biosphere 2, and The Wastewater Gardener: Preserving the Planet One Flush at a Time.
Nelson is also head of the Biospheric Design division of Global Ecotechnics Corporation (www.globalecotechnics.com) and founder of Wastewater Gardens International (www.wastewatergardens.com), which has brought ecological approaches to projects in more than fourteen countries worldwide. He works on reversing desertification in the Kimberley, Australia, and in New Mexico. He received his MSc at the University of Arizona’s School of Renewable Natural Resources, and his Ph.D. with the legendary co-founder of systems ecology and ecological engineering, H.T. Odum, at the University of Florida.
In 1993, Nelson was awarded the Yuri Gagarin Jubilee Medal for outstanding service to international cooperation in space and the environment by the Russian Cosmonautics Federation. He is a Fellow of the Explorers Club and Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. He is also an international speaker and has appeared in numerous documentaries about ecological issues and biospherics. His scientific papers may be found here: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Mark_Nelson9/publications.
Institute of Ecotechnics is a UK charity based in the October Gallery premises.
Join Dr. Mark Nelson for this Special Evening at the October Gallery
Get Tickets Here!
MONDAY 13th of June, 6 PM, October Gallery
Please arrive at 6.00 pm for a 6.30 pm start.
Refreshments available and Advance ticket holders entitled to 1 free glass of wine or 1 free soft drink at the bar.
Please note that this event takes place on the 2nd floor of the gallery, accessible by stairs only.
Monday, 13 June 2016 from 18:00 to 21:00 (BST)
October Gallery – 24 Old Gloucester Street, London, WC1N 3AL, United Kingdom – View Map
And if you aren’t able to attend this event with Mark, you can still read about his ecological adventures in Life Under Glass: the Inside Story of Biosphere 2 and The Wastewater Gardener: Preserving the Planet One Flush at a Time.
Mark Nelson, pioneering sustainability ecologist and partner at Birdwood Downs, and author of The Wastewater Gardener, will speak on Ecotechnics and Wastewater Gardening at the Derby Library on Wednesday, February 27th at 7pm.
Mark will discuss his land restoration and wastewater recycling work he has been doing around the planet (including the Kimberleys) for the past four decades, and talking about the lessons he learned while living for two years “under glass” inside Biosphere2 research facility in Arizona where they grew their own food, recycled all the air, water and wastes. He will also be signing copies of his new book, The Wastewater Gardener.
Any enquiries, please call the Library on 91910900.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has declared 2015 the official International Year of Soils. This is a year to raise awareness among policymakers and the public about the important role that soils play in human life. According to their website, “Soils have been neglected for too long. We fail to connect soil with our food, water, climate, biodiversity and life. We must invert this tendency and take up some preserving and restoring actions.”1
When FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva announced the International Year of Soil in Rome last month, he described what a crucial moment this is to reform our relationship to soil: “Thirty-three percent of our global soil resources are under degradation and human pressures on soils are reaching critical limits, reducing and sometimes eliminating essential soil functions.”2 A few of the main enemies listed by the FAO as currently posing a threat to healthy soils include: expanding cities, deforestation, unsustainable land use, pollution, overgrazing and climate change.
In a recent post in his blog, Synergetic Press author Ralph Metzner, PhD, describes the importance of taking immediate action during the Year of the Soils, “These reality-based developments have the potential to be shaped by the needs of ordinary citizens, rather than by corporate public relations campaigns and fabrications. . . you can spread the word that ‘Saving the Soil in 2015’ is not a merely a holistic metaphor; our soil is dying, and we will soon go with it, if we don’t act.”3
Likewise, in The Wastewater Gardener, author Mark Nelson helps us imagine just how elaborate the composition of soil truly is when he writes that soil is, “. . . a very complex material. One shovel full of fertile soil contains a greater number of living organisms than all the humans who have ever walked on Earth.”4 He goes on to write, “One teaspoon of soil contains five billion bacteria, five million amoebas, thousands of fungi, tiny roots and hairs and other life forms most people have never heard of . . . Soil is not ‘dirt.’ Soils are full of life.”5
Some of the benefits that soils provide include:
- Forming the basis of food production and food security
- Providing the foundation for vegetation to produce feed, fiber, fuel and medicine
- Supporting biodiversity
- Mediating climate change effects through their role in the carbon cycle
- Storing and filtering water, which helps to protect people from both floods and droughts
Dr. Vandana Shiva, founder of the seed conservation group Navdanya, posted an inspiring video on the importance of the ‘Year of the Soils’ for achieving food sovereignty, economic equality, social justice and effective climate action. Here are some of the powerful and optimistic messages she shares for the year:
This is the year where, everywhere in the world, a phrase rang in resonance: that we are all seeds. That, for a while, we might lie underground, but at the right moment, we germinate and burst out with all of our potential. I want to greet you for the year that is coming. A year that has been declared “The Year of Soil.” A year where, the seeds we sow of hope and love, the seeds we sow of abundance and creativity, are the seeds that will multiply and show the way forward, not just to each of us, but to the reluctant world that continues to be blind. And, in the Year of Soil, let us celebrate the connections between Mother Earth and ourselves. 6
As we examine the role that humans play in the life-cycles of the Earth, we must confront the reality of what the “Year of the Soils” actually means for us. This message is a call to radically change our economic, political and agricultural systems, beginning with the integration of these very ideas into our daily lives.
One practical way that you can help to regenerate poor soils is by composting. Compost both enriches soils, reduces greenhouse gases, keeps water cleaner, and offers many economic benefits.7
Learn how you can start composting here and find more ideas about other ways that you can help conserve soil here.
And for more information about soils, dig into this infographic made by the FAO.
- The Wastewater Gardener, 16
- The Wastewater Gardener, 17
- Image Source