The future of Biosphere 2 as a scientific facility is on a firmer footing, thanks to two major gifts announced this week. On Friday, the University of Arizona (UA), which has managed the iconic glass pyramids as a tourist destination and research venue since 2007, will become the owner of the property. Meanwhile, financier, and longtime Biosphere patron, Edward Bass on Monday pledged an additional $20 million to support operations and research.
Biosphere 2 was founded in 1984 by a company called Space Biospheres Ventures, funded by Bass, to develop technology for space colonization. Two high-profile experiments in the early 1990s that sealed crews of "biospherians" inside the pyramids encountered many problems, such as falling oxygen levels. In 1994, Bass's investment company took over and brought in Columbia University to manage ecological research at the site. Columbia backed out in 2003 and Bass sold the property and the surrounding ranch to a real estate development company.
UA stepped in 4 years later, renting Biosphere 2, with Bass donating about $4 million per year for research and operations. The university hired seven scientists to work at the now-unsealed facility, focusing on climate change and water and energy sustainability. A flagship effort under development is an experiment to determine how landscapes and ecosystems evolve in changing climates.
CDO Ranching & Development, which owns the buildings and land, will transfer ownership of the 1.3-hectare research site to the university on Friday. This will give researchers more flexibility to modify the buildings, if necessary, and makes Biosphere 2 more attractive for long-term grants, says Joaquin Ruiz, dean of the UA College of Science. "It's much easier and more believable when you write a proposal to say you're going to be doing research in your own facility."