The Biosphere 2 serves as a laboratory for controlled scientific studies, an arena for scientific discovery and discussion, and a far-reaching provider of public education.
Researchers at the Biosphere 2 are expanding knowledge about Earth, its living systems, its future, and its place in the universe by employing interdisciplinary thinking and collaborative efforts. And by offering daily tours, the Biosphere 2 is a useful tool for Earth education and outreach to industry, government, and the public. It is also used to educate on Earth systems planning and management for policymakers, students, and the public.
The Biosphere 2 has a long and somewhat unusual history. In the 1800s, the property was part of the Samaniego CDO Ranch. Following several changes of ownership, it became a conference center in the 1960s and 1970s, first for Motorola, and then for the University of Arizona. Space Biospheres Ventures bought the property in 1984 and began construction of the current facility in 1986 to research and develop self-sustaining space-colonization technology.
Two missions, between 1991 and 1994, sealed Biospherians inside the glass enclosure to measure survivability. Behind this highly public exercise was useful research that helped further ecological understanding. Several first-person accounts have been published by former crew members that provide different perspectives on the experiment.
Later, Columbia University managed the Biosphere 2 for a brief stint in the late 1990s and early 2000s, reconfiguring it for a different mode of scientific research, including a study on the effects of carbon dioxide on plants. Columbia also built classrooms and housing for college students of earth systems science.
The property was then sold to CDO Ranching in 2007 and leased to the UA. The enclosure now serves as a tool to support research already underway by UA scientists. The University of Arizona assumed full ownership of Biosphere 2 in July 2011. As a laboratory for large-scale projects, the university's stewardship of Biosphere 2 allows the UA to perform key experiments aimed at understanding energy, water, and the environment.