Chronology of Biosphere 2

July, 1984 – Space Biospheres Ventures (SBV), a 50-50 joint venture between Decisions Team, whose CEO was Margaret Augustine, and Decisions Investment, whose CEO was Edward Bass, bought SunSpace Ranch to build John Allen’s invention Biosphere 2. John Allen was made Executive Chairman and Head of Research, Development, and Engineering needed to create Biosphere 2.

December, 1984—SBV held an international conference to review the feasibility of the project. The gathering of some sixty participants, chaired by Margaret Augustine, the Project Director and John Allen, the Executive Chairman, included world class scientists and engineers. After thorough analysis, the conferees gave a resoundingly favorable response to the potential importance of the project and many signed on board the project.

1985—Basic designs and construction for the research and development center and test module (“ecosphere”) experiments began. Two intensive international workshops fleshed-out Allen’s fifteen year work developing the concept of the seven biome, three acre facility and brought the teams of ecological and engineering designers together.

1986 — Ecosystems, sealing, and engineering systems tests began in the Test Module and greenhouses which had been designed and built during the year by Augustine and her Biospheric Design Corporation, the prime contractor for Biosphere 2.

1987—In July, SBV and The Institute of Ecotechnics held the First International Workshop on Closed Ecological Systems in conjunction with the Royal Society in London. This workshop brought together for the first time pioneers in the field from Russia, NASA and Europe’s biological life support programs, and the architectural-engineering team of Allen, Augustine, Hawes, and Dempster completed the preliminary Biosphere 2 designs. Augustine and Allen selected the building site, and foundation outlines for Biosphere 2 were dug. Plant and animal species collections began.

September 10-12,1988—SBV began the first in a series of Test Module experiments involving humans in the ecosystem. John Allen became the first human to live in a completely closed ecological system with 100% of the air, water and recycled, and all food grown inside during his three day experiment.

March 8, 1989—Abigail Alling entered the Test Module for a five-day stay.

September, 1989 – The Second International Workshop on Closed Ecological Systems was convened by the Institute of Ecotechnics and the Institute of Biophysics to be held at Krasnoyarsk, USSR, where the most advanced closed system work prior to Biosphere 2, the Bios-3 experiments, were conducted by Josif Gitelson and his team. This 1989 international conference recognized Biospherics to be a new science, that of materially closed systems, but energetically and informationally open.

November 27, 1989—Linda Leigh completed a 21-day stay in the Test Module and proved that the carbon cycle would establish itself. With this data, the research and development for all the major systems were complete. The prototype Test Module research showed that Biosphere 2 would work and the SBV Board decided to proceed with its construction.

Ongoing work through 1990-September 1991 — The biomic systems were installed, and peparations for closure intensified.

September 26, 1991—Eight crew members, the Biospherians, who had undergone a two-year training program, entered Biosphere 2 shortly after sunrise for the initial two-year experimental to test the first physical model of Earth’s biosphere. Biosphere 2 had been designed for a hundred year study of complex ecological systems interactions.
Millions of television viewers watched worldwide. Nine preliminary successful one week closed experiments from May 1 to September l had prepared the crew along with their years of training and work on developing systems for Biosphere 2.

To kick off the first mission, Biosphere 2’s science consultant, the Institute of Ecotechnics, hosted an international environmental symposium titled “Biospheric Challenges: Impacts on the Global Environment.” The event, chaired by United Earth founder Claes Nobel, attracted over 100 organizational leaders, scientists, and educators representing such groups as World Wildlife Fund, Earth Island Institute, Royal Botanical Gardens, and NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center.

December 1991—Leak tests on the Biosphere 2 structure from September 26 through the first week of December were completed. Results of the seal tests showed an annual leak-rate of under 10%, setting a world record, making Biosphere 2 three hundred times more tightly sealed than NASA’s closed ecological experimental facilities, and thirty times the tightness of the space shuttle. The sealed facade of a well-designed glazed skyscraper would normally leak air several thousand times more rapidly than a comparable area of Biosphere 2’s glazing.

Fall 1991 – Winter 1992—An exceptionally forceful El Nino current cast Arizona into one of its cloudiest seasons on record. Inside Biosphere 2 carbon dioxide levels rose to about 3400 ppm coinciding with an unusually dark cloudy period in the last week of December when photosynthesis was greatly reduced.

February 20, 1992—The Biosphere 2 crew announced the birth of a new baby galago in the rainforest. The baby galago, believed to be about three weeks old, marked the first primate birth in Biosphere 2. The gestation period of the galagos ( 130 days) suggests that the newborn was conceived in Biosphere 2.

March, 1992—Dr. Phil Dustin, College of Charleston, a well known authority on the health and vitality of coral reefs, commenced a study in Mexico, where the coral collections were made, and with Biosphere 2 corals to ascertain the specific differences between the two reef ecologies.

March 22, 1992—The crew of Biosphere 2 spoke to the crew at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station via a ham radio phone-patch. The phone-patch was a unique linkage between crews isolated in different ways—one in a separate tropical biosphere—the other in a polar extreme environment. Both teams enjoyed the experience of being “alone together.”

March 27, 1992—Six months into its two-year closure, the Biosphere 2 crew surpassed its first major milestone and set several world records—living inside closed ecological life support system longer than any predecessor. One member of the Russian crew of the BIOS-3 facility in Siberia lived six months inside, however BIOS-3 did not recycle waste, and supplied less than 50% of the food.

April 24-27, 1992—Space Biospheres Ventures hosted the Third International Workshop on Closed Ecological Systems. Presentations and workshops were given by more than 30 different participants representing universities, research institutions, and government agencies from Russia, Europe, Japan and the United States. The symposium explored the dynamics and modeling of carbon dynamics in natural and engineered ecosystems underlining the potential importance of carbon research in Biosphere 2 in our understanding of issues involved in global warming.

May 21, 1992—Biosphere Design Corporation, Biosphere 2’s architects, received the top Special Award in the Pacific Rim 1992 Gold Nugget Awards contest for the best architectural design in the Commercial/Industrial Public or Private Special Use Facility category. Regarding the Biosphere 2 project the judges said: “This project is a leading edge experiment which may give direction on how to cope with future environmental issues that will have an increasing impact on the home-building industry in the coming decades.”
Biosphere 2 Library Tower

May 29, 1992—Biosphere 2’s tightly closed system exposed an unpredicted decline of about 0.3% of oxygen/month.This decline would have gone unnoticed at a leak rate of 100% a year. This measurement triggered productive new research into the linkage of major biogeochemical cycles within Biosphere 2 by both Bill Dempster and W.S. Broecker, the geochemist.

July 21, 1992—The Biosphere 2 Scientific Advisory Committee issued its “Report to the Chairman of Space Biospheres Ventures.” Committee chairman, Dr. Thomas Lovejoy reported, “The committee is in agreement that the conception and construction of Biosphere 2 were acts of vision and courage. The scale of Biosphere 2 is unique and Biosphere 2 is already providing unexpected scientific results not possible through other means (notably the documented, unexpected decline in atmospheric oxygen levels.) Biosphere 2 will make important scientific contributions in the fields of biogeochemical cycling, the ecology of closed ecological systems, and restoration ecology.”

September 26, 1992—The crew of Biosphere 2 celebrated their first year inside while over 6000 well-wishers celebrated with them outside. Educational activities for children were the focus of the event. Over 30 environmental organizations set-up educational booths and added to the festive moods.

The health of the crew continued to be excellent. Their health indices, including blood cholesterol, blood pressure, and other measurements were better than before entry into Biosphere 2, due in large part to their low-calorie, low-fat, nutrient-dense diet, according to the crew’s physician, Dr. Roy Walford.

“Nutrient-dense” means a large amount of essential nutrients—vitamins, minerals, etc.—per each calorie of food intake as opposed to, for example, table sugar which has lots of calories and no essential nutrients. The crew members lost an average of 16% of their pre-entry body weight before stabilizing.

October 17, 1992—Three new agriculture consultants attended a work session at SBV. They were: Dr. Jim Litsinger; Dr. Richard Harwood, Mott Chair of Sustainable Agriculture, Crop & Soil Sciences Dept., Michigan State University; and Dr. Will Getz, Winrock International.

October 30, 1992—The four registered voters (out of five Americans) of the Biosphere 2 crew cast ballots for the presidential election, including national, state, and local issues through absentee ballot.

December 1, 1992—The National Academy of Sciences published in its proceedings a paper by Dr. Roy Walford which discussed Biosphere 2 and implications for reducing physiological risk factors in closed life systems with nutrient rich diets.

December 15, 1992 — A new research program commenced in Biosphere 2 representing collaboration between Dr. Roy L. Walford and Dr. Gary K. Beauchamp and Dr. Charles J. Wysocki of Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, the world’s leading multidisciplinary center for research on olfactory sense perception. Biosphere 2 afforded a unique opportunity to study, for the first time, possible changes in human olfaction in a long-term closed system. Two aromas were imported for the odor-threshold testing.

Winter 1992—The Journal, Restoration & Management Notes, published paper by team from Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies who collaborated with Biosphere 2 researchers to study the carbon distribution and dynamics within the system and the development of soil over time. The article discusses the importance of Biosphere 2 in generating basic ecosystem nderstanding relevant to our ability to restore human damaged environments.

January 13, 1993—Oxygen was added to Biosphere 2 to bring its atmosphere level back to 19%. The oxygen was allowed to drop slowly to 14.5%, about equal to the oxygen in air found at an altitude of around 13,400 feet in order to study human ’s ability to acclimate to falling levels of oxygen. This careful Biosphere 2 experiment showed that the Biospherians operated well between the range of 16%- 19%. This discovery has major implications in undersea and planetary explorations.

Dr. Wally Broecker of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, the primary outside scientist working on the oxygen dynamics of Biosphere 2, said. “As long as the exact amount of oxygen added and its isotopic composition are precisely measured, it seems to me that this action will not put into jeopardy any of the scientific goals of this endeavor.”

February 1, 1993— The development of a sustainable, highly productive (eight humans fed from one half acre or 0.2 hectare), and non-polluting agriculture system was already clearly one of the top achievements of Biosphere 2. It’s chemical-free system recycles all human and domestic animal waste products and utilizes dozens of crop varieties to provide nutritional balance and allow for crop rotation. The crew had produced approximately 80% of their food. The other 20% was drawn from a three month supply of food that was grown inside the facility before the experiment began and from seed reserve. Improvements to be made to the system during transition will allow 100% to be produced.

April 1, 1993 — The Journal of the American Institutes of Biological Sciences, Bioscience, published a paper on initial results from the Biosphere 2 closure experiment and the project’s potential for providing a new type of laboratory for understanding fundamental processes of ecosystems and Earth’s biosphere.

April 1 – June 1, 1994 – After successfully completing Mission One, upgrading Biosphere 2, and starting Mission Two with increased agricultural productivity, Mr. Bass decided to change the focus of the facility from a total system approach to a reductionist approach in ecology. The ensuing clash in the policies of the two partners led to a negotiation process resulting in a mutually agreed settlement and effectively dissolving the joint venture. Decisions Team would continue its work in biospherics elsewhere and control of Biosphere 2 was turned over to Mr. Bass.

Decisions Team negotiated in these two months a deal with Mr. Edward Bass’s Decisions Investment that ended the SBV joint venture

From April 1,1994 to December 31, 1995, Edward Bass operated Biosphere 2 through his appointed President, Steve Bannon and Scientific Committee, led by Wallace Broecker and Michael Crow of Columbia University. This new reductionist oriented management team soon had a crisis with Mission Two and had to call off the experiment months before schedule on September 6, 1994. It is important to realize that no further total system science has emerged from Biosphere 2 since that date, and that the closed system was opened to air exchange (“the flow through mode”), and the world record setting agricultural system was destroyed.

January 1st, 1996, With the shutdown following from DI’s new policy, Mr Bass turned the project over to Columbia University for five years to operate as a world class educational center with reductionist ecosystems studies with emphasis on CO2 levels.

September 2003 – Columbia University, after being given a new ten year lease, 2000 – 2010, to continue with Biosphere 2, decided to withdraw from its agreement with Mr. Bass by the end of 2003.


Margaret Augustine (CEO), John Allen (Director of Research & Development)and  Abigail Alling (Test Module Experiment Manager) on September 10, 1988.

Crew of Biosphere 2

Biosphere 2 Library Tower