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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

The Living on Earth Almanac

Air Date: Week of

This week, facts about... the scientific experiment, Biosphere 2.


CURWOOD: Five years ago this month, the first people to inhabit Biosphere II emerged from their self-contained bubble world. For 2 years a crew of 4 men and 4 women were lab animals in the biggest terrarium on Earth, located on a desert hilltop north of Tucson. Biosphere II was a greenhouse of domes and pyramids enclosed over 3 acres. It contained 5 ecosystems: a rainforest, a savannah, a coral reef, a marsh, and a million-gallon ocean equipped with a beach. Biosphere II was stocked with 3,800 species of animals and plants. But within the 2 years most of its vertebrates and insects were extinct, including pollinators. The colony became infested with mites, ants, and cockroaches. At one point, an outside supply of oxygen was needed to keep the residents alive, and a strange kind of air pollution set in. The glass ceilings kept out ultraviolet rays, rays that normally destroy nitrous oxide. So, high levels of the gas more commonly known as "laughing gas" accumulated.

(Laughing music)

CURWOOD: The lessons to be drawn from Biosphere II aren't so funny. It seems that humans still don't know how to construct a completely sustainable living system. And that the loss of species signals the decline of a livable environment. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.



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