Sunday, January 24, 2016

Arizona Sonora Desert Museum

The Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, located about 15-miles from downtown Tucson, has been rated as one of the Top 10 museums in the country and the #1 Tucson attraction. Most of this unique museum is outdoors with 98-acres combining botanical gardens (1200 types of plants and 56,000 individual specimens), animal life (230 species), natural history museum, and aquarium. Two miles of interpretive walking paths wind through various desert habitats, with spectacular views of the Tucson Mountains as the backdrop. We spent a day exploring the museum, and were lucky to be there on a pristine weather day – not too hot, not too cold, perfect for walking around outdoors. Who knew there were so many cactus varieties?

Monday, January 4, 2016

Biosphere 2 (Oracle, Arizona)

On September 26, 1991 eight scientists entered the Biosphere 2 (or B2) research facility in Oracle, Arizona, for two years in a closed system to study ecosystem processes under controlled conditions. A system closed off from the outside world, Biosphere 2 is a glass-enclosed 3.14 acre facility with 7.2 million feet enclosed under 6500 windows.  The impressive structure looms 91 feet tall at the highest point and is sealed from earth below by a 500-ton welded stainless-steel liner, with thousands of miles of wiring, pipes, and ductwork throughout. B2 was originally meant to explore the web of interactions within life systems in a structure with five areas based on biomes; an agricultural area and human living and working space to study the interactions between humans, farming, and technology with the rest of nature. The five biome areas include a rainforest, ocean with a coral reef, mangrove wetlands, savannah grassland, and desert.

There was much publicity about this bold experiment, most of which focused on the problems ranging from low amounts of food and oxygen, die-offs of many animal and plant species, and squabbling among the resident scientists. However, B2 ultimately provided unexpected scientific results not possible through other means. Constructed between 1987 and 1991 by a private company called Space Biosphere Ventures, Biosphere 2 is now owned by the University of Arizona with daily tours offered to the public. I was fascinated with the details of how the scientists lived this way for that length of time, how they raised food, what they were looking for, and what they ultimately discovered. The tour and limited peek into this momentous undertaking only served to whet my appetite for more information – looks like I’ll be reading one or more of the many books published on this subject!

And, if you were wondering about Biosphere 1 – that would be Planet Earth.