TUCSON, Ariz. - Did you know there's an ocean and rainforest stuck in the middle of the Arizona desert? A science lab called Biosphere 2 is one of the most interesting sites in the American southwest.
This three-acre microcosm of Earth's biomes was created in the late-'80s with the noble goal of researching and developing self-sustaining space-colonization technology. While scientists have gathered some valuable data from the biodome, Biosphere 2 is probably best known for the two missions it housed between 1991 and 1994 — the second of which was shut down ahead of schedule after a dispute. Today, you can tour Biosphere 2.
The first mission in Biosphere 2 — so-named because Earth was Biosphere 1 — was highly publicized, eight crew members locked themselves in the biosphere for two years, determined to survive on their own. Despite a few minor inconveniences like ant and cockroach populations inside thriving, the loss of pollinating insect populations, rumors of hidden, prepackaged foods and oxygen being replenished from the outside, wildly fluctuating CO2 levels and, at times, disputes — and hookups as two inhabitants got married after the mission ended — between the crew, the project was called a relative success.
However, within a month of the scheduled 10-month second mission's start, a dispute between those in charge led to on-site management being ousted by federal marshals bearing a restraining order. A few days later, the building was allegedly vandalized by crew members from the first mission. Despite all this, plus multiple crew members leaving mid-mission, the crew carried on until it was finally shut down.
The iconic Biosphere 2 building was rescued by the University of Arizona, who say they continue to use the facility for projects "including research into the terrestrial water cycle and how it relates to ecology, atmospheric science, soil geochemistry, and climate change," as they try to restore the sullied reputation of the Biosphere 2 project.
They also offer in-depth tours of Biosphere 2 — it's a lot like an enormous, walk-through ecological science experiment. Patrons can see oceans with coral reefs, sandy deserts, lush rainforests and more, all in a tour that lasts under 2 hours. One of the highlights of the tour are the facility's lung domes, created to account for the fact that the heat from the sun caused the air inside the biosphere to expand during the hot daytime hours, and contract when things cooled off at night.
For more great geeky destinations, check out the Roadtrippers.com guide to mad science across America!