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University of Arizona launches major scientific research initiative at Biosphere 2

is sealed from the earth below by a 500-ton (453,600 kg) welded stainless steel liner. Ninety-one feet (28 meters) at its highest point, it has 6,500 windows that enclose a volume of 7.2 million cubic feet (204,000 cubic meters) under glass.

One initial experiment addresses key interactions between plants and water. Within the facility, the researchers will build three hill slopes, each about 32 yards (30 meters) long and 22 yards (20 meters) wide, to test how water moves down, into and across the slopes.

"Then we will introduce plants and ask how having life on a landscape changes the behavior of water, both in the air and in the soil," Huxman said. "We are interested in how plants modify their environment -- how they change the amount of time a water molecule spends in the soil and how that affects the biogeochemical reactions that happen in soil only when it is wet."

The plants, grasses and shrubs, will be typical of the desert, grassland and savannah ecosystems that cover more than one-half of Arizona and about one-third of the Earth's total land area.

The Biosphere 2 facility will allow the researchers to control and measure what enters and leaves the huge experimental chamber. A large and sophisticated array of sensors deployed throughout the chamber's atmosphere and the hill slopes will monitor environmental factors, including water, carbon dioxide, temperature, trace gases and pH.

Inside, the team will control temperature and rainfall to mimic the environmental conditions right outside the chamber. Just outside the chamber, the researchers will build replicas of the indoor hill slopes and conduct the same experiments. Mimicking the local conditions inside the chamber will let the scientists compare the gigantic indoor controlled-conditions experiment with the hill slopes outside that are exposed to natural conditions. All of these experiments will be linked to existing research projects throughout the So
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Contact: Mari N. Jensen
mnjensen@email.arizona.edu
520-626-9635
University of Arizona
26-Jun-2007


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