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    Biosphere Experiments

    Biosphere Background Information

    Definition

    The biosphere the zone of life on Earth or the global sum of all ecosystems on Earth.

    Basics

    The biosphere is the outermost part of the planet's shell — including air, land, surface rocks and water — within which life occurs, and which biotic processes in turn alter or transform. From the broadest geophysiological point of view, the biosphere is the global ecological system integrating all living beings and their relationships, including their interaction with the elements of the lithosphere (rocks), hydrosphere (water), and atmosphere (air). This biosphere is postulated to have evolved, beginning through a process of biogenesis or biopoesis, at least some 3.5 billion years ago.

    Gaia hypothesis

    The concept that the biosphere is itself a living organism, either actually or metaphorically, is known as the Gaia hypothesis.

    James Lovelock, an atmospheric scientist from the United Kingdom, proposed the Gaia hypothesis to explain how biotic and abiotic factors interact in the biosphere. This hypothesis considers Earth itself a kind of living organism. Its atmosphere, geosphere, and hydrosphere are cooperating systems that yield a biosphere full of life. In the early 1970s, Lynn Margulis, a microbiologist from the United States, added to the hypothesis, specifically noting the ties between the biosphere and other Earth systems. For example, when carbon dioxide levels increase in the atmosphere, plants grow more quickly. As their growth continues, they remove more and more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

    Many scientists are now involved in new fields of study that examine interactions between biotic and abiotic factors in the biosphere, such as geobiology and geomicrobiology.

    Ecosystems occur when communities and their physical environment work together as a system. The difference between this and a biosphere is simple, the biosphere is everything in general terms.

    Extent of Earth's biosphere

    Every part of the planet, from the polar ice caps to the Equator, supports life of some kind. Recent advances in microbiology have demonstrated that microbes live deep beneath the Earth's terrestrial surface, and that the total mass of microbial life in so-called "uninhabitable zones" may, in biomass, exceed all animal and plant life on the surface. The actual thickness of the biosphere on earth is difficult to measure. Birds typically fly at altitudes of 650 to 1800 meters, and fish that live deep underwater can be found down to -8,372 meters in the Puerto Rico Trench.

    There are more extreme examples for life on the planet: Rüppell's Vulture has been found at altitudes of 11,300 meters; Bar-headed Geese migrate at altitudes of at least 8,300 meters (over Mount Everest); Yaks live at elevations between 3,200 to 5,400 meters above sea level; mountain goats live up to 3,050 meters. Herbivorous animals at these elevations depend on lichens, grasses, and herbs.

    Microscopic organisms live at such extremes that, taking them into consideration puts the thickness of the biosphere much greater. Culturable microbes have been found in the Earth's upper atmosphere as high as 41 km (Wainwright et al., 2003, in FEMS Microbiology Letters). It is unlikely, however, that microbes are active at such altitudes, where temperatures and air pressure are extremely low and ultraviolet radiation very high. More likely these microbes were brought into the upper atmosphere by winds or possibly volcanic eruptions. Barophilic marine microbes have been found at more than 10 km depth in the Marianas Trench. Microbes are not limited to the air, water or the Earth's surface. Culturable thermophilic microbes have been extracted from cores drilled more than 5 km into the Earth's crust in Sweden, from rocks between 65-75C. Temperature increases rapidly with increasing depth into the Earth's crust. The speed at which the temperature increases depends on many factors, including type of crust (continental vs. oceanic), rock type, geographic location, etc. The upper known limit of microbial is 122C (Methanopyruskandleri Strain 116), and it is likely that the limit of life in the "deep biosphere" is defined by temperature rather than absolute depth.

    Our biosphere is divided into a number of biomes, inhabited by broadly similar flora and fauna. On land, biomes are separated primarily by latitude. Terrestrial biomes lying within the Arctic and Antarctic Circles are relatively barren of plant and animal life, while most of the more populous biomes lie near the equator. Terrestrial organisms in temperate and Arctic biomes have relatively small amounts of total biomass, smaller energy budgets, and display prominent adaptations to cold, including world-spanning migrations, social adaptations, homeothermy, estivation and multiple layers of insulation.

    Specific biospheres

    • Biosphere 1 - The planet Earth
    • Biosphere 2 - A laboratory in Arizona which contains 3.15 acres (13,000 m²) of closed ecosystem.
    • BIOS-3 was a closed ecosystem at the Institute of Biophysics in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, in what was then the Soviet Union.
    • Biosphere J (CEEF, Closed Ecology Experiment Facilities) - An experiment in Japan.

    Biosphere 1: Our biosphere is divided into a number of biomes, inhabited by broadly similar flora and fauna. On land, biomes are separated primarily by latitude. Terrestrial biomes lying within the Arctic and Antarctic Circles are relatively barren of plant and animal life, while most of the more populouse biomes lie near the Equator. Terrestrial organisms in temperate and arctic biomes have relatively small amounts of total biomass, smaller energy budgets, and display prominent adaptations to cold, including world-spanning migrations, social adaptations, homeothermy, estivation and multiple layers of insulation.

    Biosphere 2 is a 3.15-acre (12,700 m2) structure originally built to be a man-made, materially-closed ecological system in Oracle, Arizona (USA) by Space Biosphere Ventures, a joint venture whose principal officers were John P. Allen, inventor and Executive Director, and Margret Augustine, CEO. Constructed between 1987 and 1991, it was used to explore the complex web of interactions within life systems in a structure that included five areas based on natural biomes and an agricultural area and human living/working space to study the interactions between humans, farming and technology with the rest of nature. It also explored the possible use of closed biospheres in space colonization, and allowed the study and manipulation of a biosphere without harming Earth's. The name comes from Earth’s biosphere, Biosphere 1, Earth's life system and the only biosphere currently known. Funding for the project came primarily from the joint venture’s financial partner, Ed Bass' Decisions Investment, and cost $200 million from 1985 to 2007, including land, support research greenhouses, test module and staff facilities.

    BIOS-3 was a closed ecosystem at the Institute of Biophysics in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, in what was then the Soviet Union. Construction began in 1965, and was completed in 1972. BIOS-3 consisted of a 315-cubic-metre (11,124 cubic feet) habitat suitable for up to three persons. It is divided into 4 compartments — one of which is a crew area. Initially one other compartment was an algal cultivator, and the other two 'phytrons' for growing wheat or vegetables. Later the algal cultivator was converted into a third phytron. A level of light comparable to sunlight was supplied in each of the 4 compartments by twenty 6 kW xenon lamps, cooled by water jackets. The facility used 400 kW of electricity, supplied by a nearby hydroelectric power station. Chlorella algae were used to recycle air breathed by humans, absorbing carbon dioxide and replenishing it with oxygen through photosynthesis. The algae were cultivated in stacked tanks under artificial light. To achieve a balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide, one human needed 8 square metres (about 86 sq ft) of exposed Chlorella. Air was purified of more complex organic compounds by heating to 600°C (1,112°F) in the presence of a catalyst. Water and nutrients were stored in advance and were also recycled. By 1968, system efficiency had reached 85 percent by recycling water. Dried meat was imported into the facility, and urine and feces were generally dried and stored, rather than being recycled. BIOS-3 facilities were used to conduct 10 manned closure experiments with a one to three man crew. The longest experiment with a three man crew lasted 180 days (in 1972-1973). The facilities were used at least until 1984, and are apparently still available for experiments (as of 2004).

    Source: Wikipedia (All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License and Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.)

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