A new documentary about the bizarre Biosphere 2 "human zoo"

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/04/22/biosphere-2-a-new-documentary.html



It reminds me of the storyline on Cheers where Lilith leaves Frasier for a scientist who planned to live in “The Bio-Pod”.

She returns several episodes later describing how her scientist lover went nuts “pretty much as soon as they closed the door on the pod”


The craziest part (to me) is that nobody seems to have made a serious attempt at building a self-sustaining habitat since, not even the “let’s colonize Mars by 2022!” crowd like Elon Musk.


Y’know, Steve Bannon took over management of the project in '94.

It should surprise no one that he was involved with a human zoo.


If you’re ever in the area it is seriously worth a visit (and an ongoing serious research facility).

If nothing else, it’s a testament to the possibilities of engineering, should we ever move past the scam of “public-private partnerships”, and a blast to walk through and hear stories about.


They’ll be running for to come, running for to come out of the rain

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Sounds cool.I love a good science tour!



Half of me wants to see this, and the other half thinks that the trailer is disturbing enough, so I don’t want to.

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I’m going to second what Ratel posted. It is really a great tour and impressive engineering marvel well worth the visit. The stories around it are amazing too.


I’ve been a few time with different visitors, and different tour guides always have different bits of information to add and different focuses when telling the story.


Which is not nearly as nice as the human zoos Susan Oliver worked with in the 1960’s


The premise, and much of what happened, would make for a great JG Ballard novel.

I think it actually did make for a novel. Not by JG Ballard, of course. One has to settle with “TC Boyle”.


Oh fantastic! I had somehow missed that Boyle book. Thank you!


It’s named “Terranauts” IIRC.




As someone who lives in Arizona and followed the events around the start of the Biosphere, it was generally recognized by people close to the project that it started as performance art.


Yeah uh about that…

A friend in the construction trades (and longtime Tucsconan) involved in the construction of Biosphere 2 told me the whole run-out-of-oxygen-problem story that [later] made it into this Wikipedia entry:

Many suspected the drop in oxygen was due to microbes in the soil.[ citation needed ] The soils were selected to have enough carbon to provide for the plants of the ecosystems to grow from infancy to maturity, a plant mass increase of perhaps 20 short tons (18,000 kg).[62] The release rate of that soil carbon as carbon dioxide by respiration of soil microbes was an unknown that the Biosphere 2 experiment was designed to reveal. Subsequent research showed that Biosphere 2’s farm soils had reached a more stable ratio of carbon and nitrogen, lowering the rate of CO
2 release, by 1998.[63]

The respiration rate was faster than the photosynthesis (possibly in part due to relatively low light penetration through the glazed structure and the fact that Biosphere 2 started with a small but rapidly increasing plant biomass) resulting in a slow decrease of oxygen. A mystery accompanied the oxygen decline: the corresponding increase in carbon dioxide did not appear. This concealed the underlying process until an investigation by Jeff Severinghaus and Wallace Broecker of Columbia University’s Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory using isotopic analysis showed that carbon dioxide was reacting with exposed concrete inside Biosphere 2 to form calcium carbonate in a process called carbonatation, thereby sequestering both carbon and oxygen.[64]

The problem was all that new concrete curing inside their airspace.

I will not post the “math is hard” meme. I just can’t; begging off that math is hard means abdicating our responsiblity in balancing one of the biggest chemistry equations of all time: anthropogenic climate disruption and wtf we can do about it.

I am arguing though that in a very small closed loop environment (submarines, space stations, the underwater drilling platform in The Abyss), math and chemistry and an absolute obsessive focus on details mean the difference between life or death.

IMO it’s gonna be engineering and some heavy-duty commitments (including sacrificing the 1%'s “standard of living”) that will decide our fate. Math, chemistry, biology, and … huh let’s look at that human element in the equation…

Any student of human nature will quickly recognize that the biosphere story is not bizarre. It is familiar. It points exactly to what we collectively need to fix if we are going to survive climate disruption. It is instructive. The fact that the word “bizarre” is being used to describe Biosphere 2’s story merely maps the gap in our own self-awareness.

For the love of all life forms on this planet, let’s hope we don’t repeat the same mistakes. We are out of time. We have work to do.


Manager vowed revenge on Alling, her lawyer says May 24, 1996, Eric Stern, Tucson Citizen

But then Ed Bass, the wealthy Texan who funded the project, decided to follow through on Bannon’s proposal on April 1, 1994. Bannon returned as acting chief executive officer of the company, replacing Margret Augustine.

This action prompted Alling and another original Biosphere 2 crew member, Mark Van Thillo, to return from a business trip in Japan, break into the system in the middle of the night and warn crew members that new management was incapable of running the project, they have said.

Alling and Van Thillo were technical and safety consultants to Biosphere 2. They were fired a few days after the break-in. In the civil trial, they are suing SBV for breach of contract and abuse of process. The trial on criminal charges in the break-in case is pending.

Bannon called Alling’s and Van Thillo’s actions “mutiny.’