Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Can't Get Enough of that Biosphere 2!

We really enjoyed our tour.  Here are some other things we saw, and some suggestions for further reading.

Rock Sculptures at Biosphere 2, Oracle, AZ.  Image ©2018 Tina Quinn Durham.

A beautiful desert vista at Biosphere 2, Oracle, AZ.  Image ©2018 Tina Quinn Durham.
In addition to water harvesting and other earth-friendly features, there were bee condos, and instructions on how to make your own to provide homes for solitary bees - which are important pollinators in our desert environment.

Bee Condo. Image ©2018 Tina Quinn Durham.

One last photo of something near and dear to my heart: aquaponics.  We have two tanks in our home in preparation for a full-scale greenhouse, which I hope to get around to finishing someday.  Aquaponics uses fish poop to fertilize plants, and is a very efficient way to produce vegetables, herbs, and protein in the desert.

Aquaponics, Biosphere 2, Oracle, AZ.  Image ©2018 Tina Quinn Durham.

More About Biosphere 2

"Fast Facts:  Biosphere 2 by the Numbers" - description of Biosphere 2 from the University of Arizona/Biosphere 2.

Dempster, William F. “Biosphere 2 Engineering Design.” Ecological Engineering, vol. 13, no. 1-4, 1999, pp. 31–42., doi:10.1016/s0925-8574(98)00090-1.
         This article is quite technical, but a great geek read nonetheless.

Didn't get enough homework at school?   Check out this problem from Fundamentals of Chemical Engineering Thermodynamics by Kevin D. Dahm and Donald P. Visco (Independence, KY: CENGAGE Learning, 2014.)

Want to read some poetry about Biosphere? 
Deming, Alison Hawthorne et al. “Poetic Field Research at Biosphere 2 Archives • A Journal of the Built + Natural Environments.” A Journal of the Built + Natural Environments,, 4 Sept. 2014,

Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Little Flying Saucer that Could

Biosphere 2, the town of Bisbee and my friend JP have something in common:  William Shatner.

Don't laugh - it's true.  In 2002, William Shatner directed and starred in Groom Lake.  He wrote the story (though not the screenplay), and gave himself a prominent role in order to avoid paying another actor (we all know Shatner would never steal the limelight, right?).  He also agreed to "host videos that will be shown to Biosphere visitors, in lieu of paying a site fee for filming there" (Cohen, "Shatner Film Boosts Bisbee).  When Shatner ran out of money, Shatner's wife bought pizza for the crew.  It was not a high-end production.

Watch a clip from the movie - you'll see what I mean.  This is not the quality of acting you'd associate with Star Trek, or even Invasion Iowa (which I enjoyed, BTW).

 Groom Lake is a real place.  Look, you can see it right here on a map.
However, there is no public access to the real Groom Lake, so when Shatner wanted to make a movie about an alien space, he needed to find other locations.  Hence his decision to film the government base scenes at Biosphere, and the town scenes in Bisbee.

Which is where my friend JP got to see a free screening of the film, complete with free popcorn.

Did she like the movie?  I dunno, but as for the popcorn, she ate it up.

Links & Works Cited

Cohen, Lorrie, and A.J. Flick. “Shatner Film Boosts Bisbee.” Tucson Citizen, 13 Dec. 2000.

“Groom Lake (Salt Flat).” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 29 May 2018,

Locations in Tucson, 12 July 2017,

Satellite photo of the real Groom Lake

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Biosphere: Sing it out, honey!

Lung, Biosphere 2, Oracle, AZ.  ©2018 Tina Quinn Durham
If you're gonna sing, sing loud (Travis Tritt)

A less terrifying but equally fascinating part of the Biosphere 2 tour was its now non-functional lung. Hold on, you say. How can a building have a lung?

Biosphere 2 was designed to be a closed system, illuminated by the sun through 6,500 glass windows. Glass is rigid; it does not freely contract or expand as the temperature changes. So when the morning sun hits those glass windows, 7,200,000 cubic feet of air heat up, expanding far beyond the ability of glass to compensate. When the sun sets, the air inside Biosphere 2 cools and the process reverses.  The air inside the building contracts, creating another potential window-shattering catastrophe.  That's why the engineers gave Biosphere 2 a way to compensate for dramatic changes in air pressure.

Biosphere's two-towered "lungs" were an ingenious solution.  Each tower housed a ginormous metal disk, or membrane, that could rise or fall with the air pressure, relieving stress on the glass walls and keeping Biosphere 2's closed system intact.

These lungs also had a second vital function, which one day may also prove important to the Mars colonists: water collection.  At night, as Biosphere 2 cooled, water condensed on the huge membranes of the lung, filling a 200,000 gallon tank with clean water.  This stored water could then be used to fight fires or to replace moisture lost to evaporation within the various ecosystems.  In a closed system, both fire-fighting and drinking water are vital to survival.

What I found most interesting, however, had nothing to do with fire fighting, water or engineering.  The lung room is an awesome echo chamber!  I tried to convince my husband to sing a major triad in harmony with me, to create a chord that would reverberate thrillingly throughout the chamber, but my husband would have none of it.  He left me to sing alone, human lung to aluminum lung.

I want to go back with a choir!