A Permanent Home for Biosphere 2

The ocean biome at Biosphere 2 contains a million gallons and uses much of the facility's energy resources to maintain tropical temperatures.
June 27, 2011

Beginning July 1, the Biosphere 2 facility in Oracle, Ariz. will become official property of the University of Arizona. The acquisition of this one-of-a-kind research facility was made possible through two generous gifts.

CDO Ranching & Development will donate 40 acres of real estate, including the scientific apparatus of Biosphere 2, an adjacent state-of-the-art conference center, a 3 megawatt power-generating plant and several other support and administrative buildings.

The Philecology Foundation of Fort Worth, Texas, founded by Edward P. Bass, will provide $20 million supporting the ongoing science and operations.

Combined, these two gifts position the University as a leader in the field of experimental Earth system science and provide an opportunity to focus the talent of UA faculty members on scientific grand challenges such as climate change, water and energy sustainability, and public scientific literacy.

By securing ownership and long-term funding, Biosphere 2 positions itself favorably for federal and state investments and substantive collaborations with other universities on the national and international levels. Also, ownership by the University means the facility can now be strategically focused to carry out long-term research.

"This ability to commit facilities to long-term research is unique and of significant value to tackling the big questions in Earth science, hydrology and ecology," said UA President Robert N. Shelton. "Our goal is to build a national center that leads the nation in water research, Earth science and climate adaptation, and the Biosphere 2 enterprise represents an important step toward that goal."

Joaquin Ruiz, dean of the UA College of Science, said: "We are most grateful for the opportunity that CDO Ranching & development and the Philecology Foundation have given us through their generous gifts. This incredible facility will enhance our programs in Earth and planetary sciences, which are already considered some of the best in the country. It also will provide our faculty with a unique scientific tool to perform complex experiments necessary to understand fundamental questions including the availability of water, mass extinctions and energy sustainability."

The UA assumed management of Biosphere 2 under the auspices of the College of Science in July 2007. Since then, it has operated the facility as a unique laboratory for controlled scientific studies, an arena for scientific discovery, a formal and informal science education center, and a major regional attraction.

More than 260,000 public visitors attended UA programs at Biosphere 2 between July 1, 2007 and June 15, 2011. More than 2.5 million individuals have visited the site since the facility was constructed.

"Over the past five years, the UA has demonstrated a passionate commitment to Biosphere 2 and its capacity to explore the urgent questions relating to the sustainability of our planet Earth," said Ed Bass, co-founder of Biosphere 2 and president of the Philecology Foundation.

"I am thrilled this incredible apparatus has found a permanent home at such an extraordinary institution. Under the UA, one of the great Tier 1 research universities in America, and with the guidance of Joaquin Ruiz, a visionary leader and brilliant scientist, Biosphere 2 will without doubt be put to its highest and best use."

Biosphere 2's ability to combine varying scales, precise manipulation and fine monitoring together in controlled experiments provides scientists with the unique opportunity to explore complex questions such as the understanding of how Earth systems respond to climate change.

"Biosphere 2 is a fantastic resource," said Travis E. Huxman, director of Biosphere 2 and professor of ecology and evolutionary biology. "For example, we are very excited about our plans for the cross-disciplinary Landscape Evolution Observatory, a soon-to-be-constructed $6 million research project platform that will consist of three separate watersheds in which the fundamental question of how life affects the way the Earth works can be evaluated."

The gift from the Philecology Foundation also will allow for the expansion of the B2 Institute, which utilizes the Biosphere 2 Conference Center and provides scientists from around the world with non-traditional structure that facilitates interaction. The mission of this program is to promote the synthesis of existing concepts and the incubation of new ideas to address grand challenges facing society including global climate change, water and energy sustainability, information science and science education.

Also, through a grant from Science Foundation Arizona, The B2 Institute is operating the Arizona Center for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Teachers, a program that has impacted hundreds of teachers throughout the state and thousands of K-12 students.

In addition, the B2 Institute is initiating plans to expand the development of Biosphere 2 as a "model city" for the testing and implantation of innovative energy and water management strategies that can then be launched into the wider system of municipalities.

Pierre Meystre, Regents Professor and director of the B2 Institute, said: "Thanks to the long-range planning made possible by these gifts, and further building on the vibrant interdisciplinary culture at the University of Arizona and on our growing collaborations with world-leading research institutions and foundations, we are now strongly positioned to build the B2 Institute into a think tank of major international impact."

"Biosphere 2 is a transformational setting. It provides a truly significant learning center for students and teachers," said Bill Harris, head of the Science Foundation Arizona. "The B2 is a unique asset for research and education for Arizona and really, the world."

Biosphere 2 facility has been appraised for a value of about $100 million. It was constructed for more than $200 million and has an estimated replacement value of more than $1 billion.

"Few countries, let alone universities, have the opportunity to exploit the incredible capabilities of an experimental apparatus the size and complexity of Biosphere 2," Shelton said. "The University of Arizona is grateful to the Philecology Foundation and CDO Ranching & Development for joining in our vision of thinking big to solve big problems."