Wednesday, January 03, 2007

the Biosphere

I'm currently reading "The Human Experiment: Two Years and Twenty Minutes Inside Biosphere 2" by Jane Poynter, and I'm enrapt. I went to considerable trouble to get this book, which deserves to be ubiquitous (I couldn't find it at bookstores in San Francisco; I attempted to order it at one, who later called me and told me their distributor wasn't getting any more copies. Finally I got it from, and I hate patronizing Amazon, but hey, what can you do when your beloved independent bookstores and then even your local giant chainstore let you down? Even Borders didn't have this book).

I paid very little attention to the Biosphere in the late eighties/early nineties, and I never appreciated the engineering and scientific work which went into it. The building was successfully built to be more airtight than the space shuttle. For the swamp and sea environments, the scientists and engineers felt unequipped to make conscious decisions, so they simply transplanted existing environments as completely as possible. This resulted in some octopi stowing away into the Biosphere, and the octopus is a wily predator. The biospherians were not able to capture the clever octopi, which fed voraciously off the fish intended for the biosphere's residents.

Poynter was charged with determining which insect species to include in the Biosphere (I stopped the book to marvel, They brought insects in with them?), a huge and fascinating task. The decisions were in the end a mix of science and personal taste: giant Madagascar roaches would have been a great choice, as they are efficient at devouring plant material and easily managed, but Poynter and the others balked at the thought of being cooped up with giant roaches. They ended up bringing in four kinds of bees, none of them honeybees, as honeybees would require far too many resources in order to create honey. Consciously bringing stinging insects into a sealed environment is not my idea of common sense. I'd have preferred the giant cockroaches.


Anonymous said...

BRING ON THE STINGERS! I've been stung seven times at once by an angry pack of hornets on my booty, but they don't even come close to enstilling the fear I have of cockroaches.

It's all because of that damn movie about the girl who has a cockroach crawl in her ear and goes crazy.


Anonymous said...

Have you checked out the Biosphere 2 website?

I guess you can take a tour of the facility.


Anonymous said...

Go to Powell's Books:

the Drunken Housewife said...

Spill the Beans, I'm a total slut for Powell's (notice my Powell's wishlist languishing purposely on the right sidebar of the blog). I tried getting it there, but they didn't have it. So then Amazon actually did have the book on hand and was seducing people with free shipping, and I must admit they got me the book within a few days of my order. Previously I'd spent about six weeks asking hither and yon at independent bookstores & waiting for one to come in, only in vain.