Dude, Where's My Oxygen?
September 10, 2003 7:19 AM   Subscribe

Columbia Univ. severs ties with Biosphere 2. I remember when Biosphere 2 opened and watched as the team of starry-eyed scientists entered the self-sustaining environment. It's even been the subject of a bad Hollywood movie. But now the structure may become nothing more than a giant scrap pile of steel and glass in the desert. The mission of the project was impressive, and despite glitches such as acidic water and "crazy ant" infestation, should an experiment be abandoned because it didn't go as expected? Or is it just man's folly to try and replicate intelligent design?
posted by archimago (11 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Or is it just man's folly to try and replicate intelligent design?

Haven't we discussed "intelligent design" enough? It isn't even mentioned in the link. Why would you want to derail a thread before it starts?
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:57 AM on September 10, 2003

I wonder what made these ants so crazy?
posted by delmoi at 8:02 AM on September 10, 2003

I think the failing (or things that went wrong) in the biosphere is a testament to the fact we, as humans, know a whole helluva lot less about Mother Nature and how she works than we think we do.
Kind if an aside, but this (knowing less about nature than we think) is also one of the reasons I'm hesitant about messing with genes in food and humans and animals...Seems nature has a delicate balance in the genome and all the species, and messing with the genes directly conflicts with evolution- something we have no way or foreseeing how it will work out. Yes, I know we've messed with nature in the past with urbanization and polution, but genetically altering species on a widescale basis seems like too big of a step untill we know more. Just my 2 cents.
posted by jmd82 at 8:16 AM on September 10, 2003

Anyway, it's a neat place to visit (or was?) if you're even in Tucson. On the tour they'll tell you some of the Survivor-type stories of the failed attempts at sealing people inside.

Like how they grew, roasted, and brewed their own coffee (one cup each a month!), and got so starved for calories (grew their own food too) they had to stop watching TV because the fast-food commercials drove them nuts.
posted by gottabefunky at 8:47 AM on September 10, 2003

I stayed there once for a couple of days, and we got a 'behind the scenes' tour which was pretty neat. There's a maze of tunnels, passages, stairways, and ladders that link the various ecosystems, and various weird structures associated with managing the climate inside, such as a huge rubber bladder in a large underground chamber that can expand and contract, to counter the expansion/contraction of the air under the glass by day and night.

There was a general air of dilapidation, stained concrete and rusting metal, that was reminiscent of many of the posts on Mefi on abandoned subways and bunkers.

I got the impression that Columbia was making at least some money at the time by having students live on site for a semester, 'doing science.'
posted by carter at 9:20 AM on September 10, 2003

I was at the Biosphere in 1995, just before Columbia took over but after the cultists had lost control. We were looking at doing some collaborative research with them. The place was totally nutty. The thing that stuck with me the most was that while they had thousands of sensors recording temperature, humidity, etc, that none of them had been calibrated during the early "experiments". Totally useless.

The architecture is interesting but creepy. The whole place looked like a set from The Prisoner.
posted by Nelson at 9:46 AM on September 10, 2003

The Biosphere 2 is about a 45-minute drive from where I live, but the only time I have ever been there was to get a better look at our forests burning down earlier this summer. It was pretty early in the morning but still the only other people we saw were an old couple, ostensibly there for the same reason we were.
posted by mokujin at 11:44 AM on September 10, 2003

It was replaced by an equally annoying self-important bunch of blowhards known as the blogsphere.
posted by HTuttle at 1:16 PM on September 10, 2003

Biosphere was mostly about theater, and had little to do with real science.
posted by piskycritter at 2:01 PM on September 10, 2003

Columbia University's David Ho, the rain experiment's lead investigator, says though Biosphere 2 is not the real world, it is a solid training ground. "In order to convince people that what we have here can be extrapolated to the real world, we will have to go out there and do an experiment," he says. "But things that we've learned here will help us, because when we go out to the real world, we'll know what to look for."

I have to agree with this. Lots of good research or good academic training starts out with simplified models. When you get advanced, nothing's a substitute for details oriented experience out at the front line out looking at the real thing, but the models aren't a bad place to start at all. I hope they keep this.
posted by weston at 2:07 PM on September 10, 2003

They've got it all backwards. You don't build a greenhouse in the desert, seal it off from the outside and expect plants and animals to thrive there! The A/C bill must be crazy!

bad Hollywood movie.

Man you just don't get the Weasel.
posted by soren at 4:58 PM on September 10, 2003

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