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Educational Travel: Science Under Glass

Dec 23, 2007
Whether it began as a scientific experiment or an intriguing sociological test, Biosphere 2 is an impressive world-renowned structure. The 3.5-acre facility, located in Oracle, AZ just north of Tucson, was originally built to serve as an artificial ecological system, but has become an ideal attraction for student group travelers with an avid interest in technology and science.

Constructed from 1987-1991 by Space Biosphere Ventures, the original biosphere was designed to test if and how people could live and work in a closed structure. It was the ultimate experiment under glass to explore the complex web of interactions within life systems. Today, Biosphere 2 is operated by the University of Arizona, which uses the site as a laboratory to study climate change. Original Biosphere financier Edward Bass gave the university an additional $30 million to preserve and maintain the site.

With a size comparable to two and a half football fields, Biosphere 2 is the largest closed system ever created. The sealed nature of the structure allows scientists to monitor the ever-changing chemistry of the air, water, and soil within. The structure is comprised of mangrove wetlands, savannah grassland, desert, agricultural system, living quarters, and a 1 million-gallon ocean.

Since 2006, the structure has no longer been maintained in an airtight state and its accessibility to the outside world has been expanded with the "World of Discovery Under the Glass" Tour. For the first time since its construction, student group travelers can now explore the entire Biosphere 2 on a fully guided tour along a newly built trail system which traverses most of the structures wilderness ecosystems.

Group tours begin in the human habitat where students can see one of the apartments that the original inhabitants of the biosphere lived in, the farm where they grew their crops, and the kitchen where their meals were prepared. Also on view is the command-and-control room, where scientist's monitored data collected by hundreds of sensors.

Located within the habitat is "Climate Change and Life on Earth," an exhibit that examines past climate changes on earth, greenhouse warming, the causes of its impact on humans, and the choices people will have to make to manage the planet.

The tour then continues through the airlock door into the wilderness area. The first environment student's encounter is the tropical savanna. The trail system then travels along a 40-foot ocean cliff for a dramatic look above the ocean. Moving along the trail, students descend into the lower savanna and the lush mangrove through the tropical thron scrub, and into the coastal fog desert.

The techno sphere gives touring groups a view of all of the mechanical systems that make it possible to control the environments of the Biosphere. Inside, students can descend through a tunnel into one of the Biosphere's two lungs. These large geodesic domes originally prevented the massive structure from exploding or imploding its airtight state. Essentially, the lungs allowed the Biosphere to grow larger during the day when it was warmer, and shrink due to cooler air during the night. The tour then moves to the underwater ocean viewing gallery exhibit before concluding at the stating point on the hill overlooking the biomes.

Self-guided tours of the exterior of the Biosphere 2 are also available. They begin with an orientation movie and then the visitors see the human habitat, climate change exhibit, and ocean viewing gallery.
About the Author
travel adventures Travel Adventures is staffed by educators who understand the needs of teachers. Serving over one half million students since our inception, we provide hassle-free travel arrangements while empowering teachers to create change by expanding the classroom to the world. Our experienced team of travel professionals is dedicated to exceeding your student
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