Biosphere 2 ~ Oracle, Arizona

January 14th ~ Oracle, Arizona

Biosphere 2

Biosphere 2

As is often the case, our travel plans are fluid. While driving toward Tucson, I spotted a billboard touting Biosphere 2. I remember reading a small blurb about it years ago and was curious to check it out. So, after a short stop to recalibrate our GPS destination, off we went in that direction. 

Biosphere 2

Built over four years from 1987 – 1991, it is the largest closed system every created. It was built to be a sealed, self-contained environment, and a closed ecological system or vivarium.

Constructed on a 40 acre site, the complex itself is 3.14 acres and was intended to be a center for research and learning about the Earth and its living systems. It was also hoped that it would provide answers on how mankind might someday colonize the moon, mars or faraway planets.

The initial experiment would include eight people being enclosed for a period of two years. The were to have no physical contact with the outside world, but be self-sufficient inside the domed units, growing their own food, and doing research projects.



The Biosphere itself was divided into distinct zones that included a simulated rainforest, ocean with coral reef, fog desert, mangrove wetlands and a savannah grassland, so that data could be gathered on the effects of a closed environment on each section and each other.

Ocean area

Ocean area

There was also a large agricultural area where crops were grown. They were on a 90 some percent vegetarian diet, but chickens were raised for eggs, goats for milk, and tilapia for fish and pigs for some occasional meat.

The eight team members took turns cooking, with one person being assigned to fix dinner, then breakfast and lunch the following day before the next person took over.

Kitchen - quite modern for the time

Kitchen – quite modern for the time

There were four men and four women that included one doctor. There were no couples initially, but they were free to form whatever relationships they wanted. They were forbidden to produce any children during their two-year contract as that was one potential complication they did not want to add to the equation.

Each person had their own small apartment with living quarter below and sleeping quarter above.

Sample living quarter

Sample living quarter

They had access to telephones, computers and TV to stay in touch with the outside world and friends or family could come to a viewing area at the entrance where they could visit via telephone and “see” each other through a large window. Reminded me a bit of what it might be like to visit someone in prison.

There were some problems with the first mission that included animals and plants dying, management issues, constant hunger, infighting, harder work than they anticipated and not getting enough calories on a daily basis they each lost 20-25 pounds.

Tim inside the Biosphere

Tim inside the Biosphere

But the biggest challenge became a dwindling oxygen supply. Although the scientist had carefully calculated and they thought balanced the internal composition with the number/amount of plants to convert the carbon dioxide back into oxygen, they failed to take something into consideration…

They entire building was built on top of a huge concrete pad. Concrete can take years to cure, and that process sucks up oxygen. Since it was a totally sealed enclosure, the concrete was stealing oxygen needed for the eight inhabitants to breath.

This is inside the "lungs" of the enclosure

This is inside the “lungs” of the enclosure

The doctor did physicals for each member every two weeks, and as the oxygen levels decreased, it eventually became problematic. Symptoms became apparent like one might see at higher altitudes. A decision was made to artificially insert more oxygen on three different occasions.

The second mission in 1994 was with seven members and lasted only six months.

Today Biosphere 2 is owned by the University of Arizona and is both a tourist attraction and a research facility.

This display seemed out of place to me???

This display seemed out-of-place to me???

I walked away scratching my head. It was fascinating, but I felt saddened that the original project was more failure than success. There was a huge opportunity that got squandered, I believe primarily due to poor management.

Just FYI, one “couple” did end up getting married at the end of the contract and are still married and living in the area.

The sky was threatening, yet beautiful as we were leaving

The sky was threatening, yet beautiful as we were leaving

The picture above shows the rainforest in the glass building on the left. The center white area with the lookout tower in the center is the living portion where the apartments and kitchen are located. Behind it in those three arched greenhouses is where the majority of the food was grown. All the way to the right is the large domed lung portion.

Was it worth seeing? Most definitely. We were fortunate to arrive on a Saturday just before a one hour history tour was starting, so we got to take it and then go on the 90 minute regular tour.

Some of the displays, particularly of the different environments, are decaying and neglected looking, however the overall structure and information behind the project is still fascinating.

The portion, where the three domed greenhouses are, has been repurposed and will soon be used for a brand new experiment: Landscape Evolution Observatory  I am hopeful that this massive site can be used for similar scientific projects in the future.

GRATITUDE MOMENT: Today I am grateful that we got to visit what had once been billed by Time Life Books as one of the 50 must-see wonders of the world. I’m guessing this was back in the day when the experiments were actually taking place.

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About Tim and Joanne Joseph

Hi and welcome! We are Tim and Joanne Joseph and we have just embarked on our latest adventure. We hope you will join us!
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39 Responses to Biosphere 2 ~ Oracle, Arizona

  1. Vivian Meade says:

    I am so glad that you are enjoying the fine art of mobile living..I have a caution for you here.. the subject of using the GPS totally… Be VERY CAREFUL.. it is not always accurate and can put you on roads that are not even meant to be traveled….dangerous to put all your faith in that little gadget. Be wise and have a recent PRINTED map with you. AAA is good about having all the maps you will ever need. just sayin’.. be cautious. Been there done that..ended up on a road with no turn around room for miles and miles..we were LUCKY. Hugs my friends. and SAFE TRAVELS.


    • Vivian, we are pretty loaded down with Google maps app, Waze app, AAA books, AAA Arizona map, Lonely Planet guide book and map, as well as picking up local city maps and brochures at tourist centers and sites along the way 😃 But if we still get lost or make a wrong turn here or there, it will just add to our adventures. Thankfully, this rig is pretty easy to turn around compared to larger motorhomes.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. joliesattic says:

    I did the tour quite a few years ago and found it fascinating. I think, if it were remotely cost effective, domes of this nature could be incorporated to handle population issues. In many cases they are like giant terrariums which for the most part are self sufficient, not unlike the initial set up the earth was in before the flood. (I realize not everyone believes that, but it’s how I imagine it)
    I don’t know if it was popular in your day, but I recall people taking those giant 5 gallon water jugs and putting dirt in them and then adding plants to it and never needed to or very seldom had to add water because it would form its own condensation recycling or creating it’s own moisture. Some were not necessarily air tight either. I also found it interesting that while I was there leaning on a rail, I noticed these little ants crawling all over the place. I asked about them. Our guide tells us that several variety of ants were also included in this self sustaining environment, but that in the end, the only one that survived was that tiny little ant. All the others disappeared. It is not unlike how my little Papillon can dominate the bigger dogs on our street. So, even in a self sustaining unit, nature still maintains a survival of the fittest or evolutionary dominance and size don’t matter. Great post.
    I think perhaps it would be wise for people to consider building more of these in some form or fashion. You never know what the future holds.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. nelson2021 says:

    Will be visiting Arizona soon. Will add this place to our must see list. Thank you for the great posts!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Would love to hear your take on it after you see it. I’m very glad we saw it, and I think if we had returned home and THEN heard about it, I would have been disappointed at missing it. It is a bit of a couriosity for sure.


  4. Kim Gorman says:

    Very interesting, although I must say it also sounds rather horrifying. Like living in a bubble. I hope the world doesn’t come to this. If I lost 25 pounds I’d be dead! Still, I can see why you’d want to tour the place – I certainly would!


  5. corkscot says:

    There is so much that I don’t know about my own country. Thanks for the tour.


  6. Widdershins says:

    I agree with you, it was a squandered opportunity. I guess they learned not to use concrete when building habitats on Mars though. 😀


  7. tippysmom2 says:

    I always say you learn something from all failures. The outcome may not be what you were expecting, but something is learned, and, often the unexpected is the best. After all, the microwave was discovered by accident. However, I agree that it seems like someone (corp. or university) would have taken over and used it for more experiments, since the facility is there. It sounds like that might be happening, just a few years later.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences. Interesting that the smallest ants survived. Wonder if anyone figured out why? Now, there is an experiment for you.


  8. tippysmom2 says:

    Oh, I forgot. I do agree that the dinosaur exhibit seems a bit out of place in a futuristic exhibit/experiment.


  9. emotionsoflife2016 says:

    Beautiful photos

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Jessica says:

    Wow! That’s really cool!


  11. Hi Tim and Joanne, thank you for that wonderful and interesting information of a lifetime. I never heard of this biosphere oracle dome. There are lots happening out there in this world. It was an amazing read and I hope to read more from you. I have not stopped by for sometime, I was too busy for some months before Christmas. Hugs from London!


  12. Maxxtrails says:

    We enjoyed our tour of the Biosphere a few years ago, but you had some interesting information that we didn’t get … like the couple that eventually married 😊 Very informative, thanks for sharing.


  13. What a fascinating place and concept. I too recall reading about this years ago but didn’t know how things unfolded. Thanks for the interesting read.


  14. that was really interesting. Thanks for sharing. I remember when this was going on, I was in my late teens and thought it would be so cool to be apart of it. Never knew it’s outcome till now. Such a shame some silly mistakes and miscalculations caused it to end. I still think they could learn a lot from it.


  15. Excellent article, very informative!


  16. What a fascinating place! I had never heard of it – I want to visit now! Can’t say I would want to live there though.


  17. Pingback: Biosphere 2 ~ Oracle, Arizona | Eslkevin's Blog

  18. dweezer19 says:

    Wow. Awesome idea. Sad, they didn’t have all the right minds on board at the start. Live that last shot. Lol


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