Cre­at­ing a new world for good of mankind

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - GOODPOSTER -

could live and grow their own food. This ex­per­i­ment, which was paid for by a Texas bil­lion­aire, was sup­posed to work as a minia­ture version of Earth (also known as Bio­sphere 1) and lead to mon­ey­mak­ing tech­nolo­gies that could be used in space mis­sions. In 1991, eight sci­en­tists be­gan a two-year stay in­side the struc­ture.

Car­son tells read­ers about this in­trigu­ing at­tempt to live in what she calls “Space­ship Earth,” but the fo­cus of her book is on the sci­en­tific work be­ing done there now. This re­search, she says, “is about what’s hap­pen­ing to Earth, not how to colonise Mars”.

Much of this science re­lates to chal­lenges caused by cli­mate change, and this huge struc­ture has been turned into an ideal place to con­duct large ex­per­i­ments.

Each sec­tion of Bio­sphere 2 has a fas­ci­nat­ing story. To cre­ate an in­door trop­i­cal co­ral reef, ma­te­ri­als were taken from dif­fer­ent parts of the world. Milk tanker trucks car­ried sea­wa­ter from the Pa­cific Ocean. Fish, sea urchins, lob­sters and liv­ing co­ral were brought from the Caribbean and sand was brought from the Ba­hamas. This at­tempt was not suc­cess­ful; the glass win­dows blocked too much sun­light. But even though the co­ral died, use­ful ex­per­i­ments are hap­pen­ing in this in­door ocean.

Car­son also shows how Bio­sphere 2’s for­est, which is warmer than a typ­i­cal trop­i­cal for­est, helps in­crease our sci­en­tific un­der­stand­ing of cli­mate change. “The rain for­est is pretty amaz­ing be­cause it’s been there from the be­gin­ning,” she says. “Cer­tain species have died out, and oth­ers have done well. It’s not un­like... what hot­ter, drier trop­i­cal forests might face around the world.”

The work that most in­ter­ests Car­son is the LEO Project, which she calls a “marvel of engi­neer­ing.” LEO stands for land­scape evo­lu­tion ob­ser­va­tory and it fo­cuses on three gi­ant hill­sides of soil.

Us­ing sen­sors, sam­plers and sus­pended weather sta­tions, sci­en­tists are an­swer­ing such ba­sic ques­tions as how does rock be­come soil? What hap­pens to rain­wa­ter once it soaks into soil? How does car­bon move through the land­scape?

As Car­son puts it, “Th­ese are ba­sic ques­tions that re­quire a big science project.” – Wash­ing­ton Post

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