Monday, June 15, 2009

The defiling of Biosphere 2

We visited Biosphere 2 the other day. Anyone who spent even a smidgen of their grade school years in the early 1990s surely remembers the class discussions we all had about the Biosphere project. I had kind of forgotten about it until we moved to Tucson and realized that Biosphere is located just 40 minutes outside of town. Yes - as my friend Amanda pointed out, the environment they chose to best mimic the harsh, infertile conditions one might find on the moon happens to be right here in Arizona.

A visit to Biosphere 2 consists of a roughly 90-minute tour through the living quarters of the original Biosphere team, as well as the different biomes in which they conducted their research. The tour somehow managed to be simultaneously very boring and suddenly fascinating. You'd be standing there in a manufactured rainforest listening to the guide drone on about decomposed leaves and just about when your eyes glazed over, he'd suddenly start talking about how wild monkeys became the arch enemies of the Biosphere researchers. Or one minute he's telling you about the rate of tree death in the savannah biome, and the next he's giving you the scoop on the different factions that formed among the researchers during their two years of enclosure. It ended up being quite a good tour.

A German was kind enough to make our picture in the rainforest biome.

The best part came while we were in the bowels of one of the biomes, near all the machinery and electrical systems that help Biosphere continue to function on a daily basis. The guide launched into a long, detailed explanation about how enclosed they try to keep Biosphere. For example, no food or drink are allowed in the premises, and before they even laid the concrete foundation for the structure, they lined the pit with specially constructed sheets of metal to keep any kind of foreign intrusion out of Biosphere. At one point in its history, all guests had to wear special booties so that the specialized, delicate environment of Biosphere could be absolutely preserved.

At the moment he concluded his speech about keeping Biosphere apart from the things that contaminate the outside world, Magdalena spit up a classic goo of breastmilk and Cheerios all over the floor. It was not one of our greatest moments as parents.

Despite violating the sanctity of Biosphere, we had a really good visit. It was definitely worth the time, effort, and money. In a way, I felt like I was fulfilling an elementary school dream that I never knew I had. Who knew when I was reading all those Weekly Reader articles about Biosphere that I would someday get to go there?


Suzanne Bubnash said...

Perhaps Magdalena's "episode" will be featured in future issues of Weekly Reader--they will explain how the entire fabulously expensive multi-decade experiment had to close down because it was defiled by an adorable spit-uppy baby.

Susanne said...

Ha! That's so funny!

Jeanerbee said...

Oh that brings me back! I had a field trip to the Biosphere at some point either with school or Girl Scouts... and I haven't been back since! I should DO that again!

Amanda said...

Hilarious! I think you are one of the few people who actually remembers hearing about the Biosphere back in the day. Being from Tucson, we all thought it was big news, but it doesn't seem as if very many "out of towners" cared much.

My favorite story was how an octopus escaped his ocean habitat and wreaked havoc on the corn crops. Did your tour guide mention that one?

Laura said...

I am glad that you guys are going and seeing things in Arizona before you leave. Matt and I are kicking our selves for not seeing the things that were close to Utah before we left. Oh well, maybe someday we will make it back there to see the things we wanted to.


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