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Adv Space Res. 2003;31(7):1629-39.

The legacy of Biosphere 2 for the study of biospherics and closed ecological systems.

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Biosphere Foundation, Santa Fe, NM 87508, USA.


The unprecedented challenges of creating Biosphere 2, the world's first laboratory for biospherics, the study of global ecology and long-term closed ecological system dynamics, led to breakthrough developments in many fields, and a deeper understanding of the opportunities and difficulties of material closure. This paper will review accomplishments and challenges, citing some of the key research findings and publications that have resulted from the experiments in Biosphere 2. Engineering accomplishments included development of a technique for variable volume to deal with pressure differences between the facility and outside environment, developing methods of atmospheric leak detection and sealing, while achieving new standards of closure, with an annual atmospheric leakrate of less than 10%, or less than 300 ppm per day. This degree of closure permitted detailed tracking of carbon dioxide, oxygen, and trace gases such as nitrous oxide and ethylene over the seasonal variability of two years. Full closure also necessitated developing new approaches and technologies for complete air, water, and wastewater recycle and reuse within the facility. The development of a soil-based highly productive agricultural system was a first in closed ecological systems, and much was learned about managing a wide variety of crops using non-chemical means of pest and disease control. Closed ecological systems have different temporal biogeochemical cycling and ranges of atmospheric components because of their smaller reservoirs of air, water and soil, and higher concentration of biomass, and Biosphere 2 provided detailed examination and modeling of these accelerated cycles over a period of closure which measured in years. Medical research inside Biosphere 2 included the effects on humans of lowered oxygen: the discovery that human productivity can be maintained with good health with lowered atmospheric oxygen levels could lead to major economies on the design of space stations and planetary/lunar settlements. The improved health resulting from the calorie-restricted but nutrient dense Biosphere 2 diet was the first such scientifically controlled experiment with humans. The success of Biosphere 2 in creating a diversity of terrestrial and marine environments, from rainforest to coral reef, allowed detailed studies with comprehensive measurements such that the dynamics of these complex biomic systems are now better understood. The coral reef ecosystem, the largest artificial reef ever built, catalyzed methods of study now being applied to planetary coral reef systems. Restoration ecology advanced through the creation and study of the dynamics of adaptation and self-organization of the biomes in Biosphere 2. The international interest that Biosphere 2 generated has given new impetus to the public recognition of the sciences of biospheres (biospherics), biomes and closed ecological life systems. The facility, although no longer a materially-closed ecological system, is being used as an educational facility by Columbia University as an introduction to the study of the biosphere and complex system ecology and for carbon dioxide impacts utilizing the complex ecosystems created in Biosphere '. The many lessons learned from Biosphere 2 are being used by its key team of creators in their design and operation of a laboratory-sized closed ecological system, the Laboratory Biosphere, in operation as of March 2002, and for the design of a Mars on Earth(TM) prototype life support system for manned missions to Mars and Mars surface habitats. Biosphere 2 is an important foundation for future advances in biospherics and closed ecological system research.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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