I took a road-trip to the Santa Catalina Mountains, half an hour outside Tucson to find the Biosphere 2 (B2). It was constructed between 1987 and 1991 and explored the interactions within life systems. The structure is split into five areas based on biomes. Additionally there are an agricultural area, human living, and working spaces to study the interactions between humans, farming and technology with the rest of nature.
B2 was originally built to be a model environment to study how the earth’s natural systems worked. Since 2011 the University of Arizona and its industry parters are using B2 as a model city to better learn how to integrate renewable energy, become more energy efficient, and increase the security and reliability of the electric utility grid. Biosphere 2 contained representative biomes:
A 1,900 square meter rainforest, an 850 square meter ocean with acoral reef, a 450 square meter mangrove wetlands, a 1,300 square meter savannah grassland, a 1,400 square meter fog desert, a 2,500 square meter agricultural system, a human habitat, and a below-ground infrastructure. Heating and cooling water circulated through independent piping systems and passive solar input through the glassspace frame panels covering most of the facility, and electrical power was supplied into B2 from an onsite natural gas energy center.
The University of Arizona is collaborating with Tucson Electric Power (TEP) to test:
- over 600 PV modules
- from 10 different manufacturers
- with 23 inverters
- supplying 90 peak kWh to the grid
The data from the TEP solar test yard are being used to determine how PV systems perform in Tucson by addressing questions such as:
- What is the annual, daily, and per-secon energy yield of different PV systems
- How do clouds, winds, aerosols, and rain affect PV systems
- How does temperature affect each component in a PV system
- How durable and reliable are the systems
The latest experiment at B2 is called Landscape Evolution Observatory (LEO). It consists of three huge landscapes constructed inside an environmentally controlled greenhouse facility. LEO aims to address fundamental grand challenges in Earth systems science:
- How will Earth’s landscapes change as climate changes?
- How do water, energy and carbon move through landscapes?
- How do biological systems (vegetation and microbes) modify landscapes?
- How will terrestrial water resources alter with climate change?
Recommended also: Manifesto