Life Support System

efi kazantzidou efi at trefi.demon.co.uk
Fri Jan 24 19:23:02 EST 1997

In article <32E249BE.60EB at cphl.mindspring.com>, Jim Barron
<jdbarron at cphl.mindspring.com> writes
>Hayden James wrote:
>> I heard that the reason for the failure of the Biosphere 2 project was
>> the constant need of replenishing of oxygen.  The plants could not
>> effectively regenerate the amount of oxygen.  Also I know that the
>> reason for the low levels of oxygen was the absorbtion of oxygen from
>> microorganisms found in the soil and other parts.  Can someone explain
>> the process of the absorbtion of oxygen from microbes? What microbes are
>> resonbible for the absorbtion of oxygen in the system?
>As I understand it, the root cause of the oxygen deficit was that
>MATERIALS USED IN THE CONSTRUCTION of the project absorbed a massive
>amount of oxygen.  If the project had been built with proper materials
>and soils already in a state of equilibrium in a simialar environment
>had been used, then this problem probably would not have occurred.  The
>basic problem is THIS:  if you are establishing an ecoligically
>independant system, you MUST give it time to reach equilibrium before
>detaching it from thw "mother" environment.  Small systems do not have
>the massive resevoirs (atmosphere etc.) to buffer short term changes and
>so, the smaller the system, the smaller the largest fluctuation it can
>It was totally unrealistic to expect that they could just put everything
>in place and expect it to run itself right off the bat.   This shows
>just how little we understand ecosystems.  (But then that sort of thing
>was what the project was built to find out!   So it's "failure" was
>really a success.)
>IMHO, science did not kill it.  Politics and unrealistic expectations
>jdbarron at cphl.mindspring.com

As I understand it (from someone involved to find out why), the biosphere 2
failed because it did not have a balanced ecology.  They thought that by having
a little bit of forest, a little bit of desert, a little bit of swamp, a little
bit of agriculture etc... everything would sort itself out  - but as you note
these things do not work effectively on a small scale, and the CO2 levels
steadily built up, while the volunteers were unable to grow enough food at the
same time.  In fact it was the concrete in the building materials that enabled
the project to keep going as long as it did, by absorbing much of the XS CO2,
which otherwise would have killed the 'crew' early on in the experiment.  It was
this danger that eventually forced the experiment to be abandoned.

Trevor Fenning.

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