Biosphere Articles Part 7 
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 Biosphere Articles Part 7
Faking It
The Biosphere is a Model of the Earth After All-- It's Suffering
from Runaway Greenhouse Effect
By Marc Cooper
The Village Voice, November 12, 1991

     TUCSON--Last month, in a tumultuous, celebratory ceremony
televised live not only on local TV but carried nationwide by ABC's
"Good Morning America" and trumpeted on the front pages of dozens
of American newspapers, eight space-suited "Biospherians"--after
two years of delays-- finally sealed themselves into the stunning,
three-acre, glass-and-steel bubble replicate of planet Earth 20
miles north of here known as Biosphere 2. For the next two years,
these eight "crew members" are to live inside the $150 million
terrarium completely sealed off from the Earth's atmosphere. As a
Crow Indian shaman chanted, as a Tibetan monk prayed, as the former
mayor of Phoenix clapped his approval at the commencement of what
some have called the most important scientific experiment since the
moon launch, Dr. Roy Walford, the senior member of the crew, told
the earthbound press with visible emotion, "We are fearful but
loving; we court what lurks ln the labyrinth, pledging at all odds
to make ours an honest destiny."
     But, as the Village Voice has learned, the public, the press,
and perhaps even some private investors in the Biosphere project
may have been misled and deceived by the experiment's managers. In
the days before the enclosure on September 26, Biosphere management
knew that internal carbon dioxide levels were abnormally high and,
in gross violation of the underlying principles of the experiment,
a chemical-driven machine was surreptitiously introduced into the
bubble to aid in air purification. In spite of official claims that
"once sealed, the ecological systems [inside the Biosphere] will
recycle the air," a $125,000 carbon dioxide recovery system of the
sort used on submarines-- commonly known as a CO2 "sc{*filter*}"--was
secretly installed inside the "rain forest" section of the bubble.
Its job is to absorb the excessive carbon dioxide that the
Biosphere's plant life has failed to digest.
     Further, the installation of the sc{*filter*}, along with other
evidence secured by the Voice, suggests that Biosphere management
closed the structure supposedly for "two years" while knowing, as
one high-ranking Biosphere scientist put it in his letter of
resignation, "that we may only be able to close the biosphere for
a much shorter period of time."
     In two lengthy reports earlier this year, the Voice revealed
that while the Biosphere 2 project bills itself as a monumental
research experiment designed to shed new light on the Earth's
environmental processes as well as on human capacity to explore
outer space, the enterprise is, in reality, the decades-old
brainchild of a bizarre cult that believes the Earth is dead and
that it is humanity's "imperative" to colonize Mars. The Voice
reports concluded that Biosphere 2 was more theme park than
research experiment, more science fiction than science.
     But these new revelations centering on the importation of a CO2
sc{*filter*} into the sealed atmosphere and its work replacing what is
supposed to be carried out by organics-based "ecological processes"
are the first indications that Biosphere's parent company-- Space
Biospheres Ventures-- is clearly cheating on its own experiment

Scrub a Dub-Dub

     Three independent sources, including employees and contractors
of SBV, have told the Voice that the sc{*filter*} was delivered to the
Biosphere site just a few days before "final enclosure." In
addition, when contacted by telephone,{*filter*} Kruse of Advanced Air
Control, a company based in Durand, Michigan, told the Voice
that his company had, indeed, built a CO2 recovery system for    
SBV. But he said that he was prohibited from giving any details
because he had signed a letter of confidentiality.
     Instead of responding to Voice queries about the CO2 buildup
and the purchase of the sc{*filter*}, Biosphere management attempted to
undercut this report by issuing its own, first-ever "monthly
report." In an advisory faxed to the Associated Press and other
Arizona-based media last Friday, two days after the Voice requested
their response to the allegations contained in this article, SBV
confirmed that CO2 levels inside the glass structure are "somewhat
elevated compared to the Earth's atmosphere" and that the air
mixture inside the dome has "not reached an equilibrium at this
early point." That same report stressed that there was no health
threat to the human Biospherians. And it downplayed the
significance and installation of the CO2 sc{*filter*}, saying only that
"the air is recycled in Biosphere 2 through a complex system that
is pre{*filter*}ly biological but with some mechanical back-up
assistance . . . "
     "Bad luck would have it that the sc{*filter*} actually arrived on
'media day'-- right before enclosure," says one source inside SBV.
"You should have seen [Biosphere management] hustle to get it out
of sight of the reporters. They had to unbolt an entire wall of the
Biosphere to get it in. They also brought in a whole pallet full of
what looked like cement bags." The two other sources also report
seeing the pallet of bags.
     Air treatment and management experts confirm that most CO2
sc{*filter*}s use either the chemical compound lithium hydroxide or
calcium chloride as filtering agents. Both substances are
frequently shipped in bags that look like cement. Air is pumped
through the sc{*filter*} and passed through the filtering agent, often
mixed with water. Carbon dioxide is removed from the air and
combines with the filtering agent to form a soft-rock substance
similar to limestone.
     Reliable sources with access to Biosphere monitoring data
report that short-term, test enclosures of the bubble prior to
final enclosure revealed CO2 levels of more than 5000 parts per
million (ppm). Five thousand ppm of carbon dioxide is the maximum
average exposure level permitted on an hour-a-day, five-day-a-week
basis by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The
Biospherians, however, are to be sealed inside their atmosphere for
two years without respite.
     Experts in the field say they have no knowledge of any
research documenting the ill effects of human exposure to high CO2
levels over such a long period of time. "The longest-term studies
are usually of submarine crews exposed to 5000 to 30,000 ppm for 60
to 90 days," says Dr. Bill Norfleet, a NASA medical officer. "And
in those cases you begin to see increased incidence of kidney
stones, cyclic changes in {*filter*} pH, cyclic changes in calcium
levels, increases in gastric acidity-- GI problems--and some soft
evidence of increased respiratory disease." As CO2 levels increase,
breathing is accelerated, response time is slowed, and, at
extremely high levels, a sort of narcosis is induced that can lead
to asphyxiation.
     "After seeing the results of the test enclosures, [management]
freaked out," says an SBV source. "That's when they went for the
sc{*filter*}. And that sc{*filter*} has been running around the clock since
final enclosure."
     The Voice has secured a number of the Biosphere's so-called
Daily Weather Reports--the computerized printouts of atmospheric
conditions inside the glass dome--indicating that, even with the
sc{*filter*} operating, CO2 levels remain abnormally high and are
continuing to rise. Just two weeks after enclosure, on October 8,
CO2 levels were peaking at nearly 2000 ppm, eight times the normal
level of our atmosphere. On that date CO2 was averaging more than
1500 ppm. By October 21, less than one month after enclosure, the
CO2 level inside the Biosphere was averaging more than 2000 ppm and
was peaking at nearly 2500 ppm--some 10 times ambient levels.

Blowing the Whistle

     After the CO2 sc{*filter*} was purchased, only the elite circles
of the Biosphere project--the Biospherians themselves, top
management, and the so-called nerve team-- were privy to lt, and
all were sworn to secrecy. This select group was also told, say SBV
sources, that though the public and press were being told the
Biospherians would remain inside the bubble for two years, it was
more likely that they would be in for "about 90 days." Two sources
inside SBV contend that senior Biospherian Dr. Roy Walford of UCLA
was so outraged by this apparent duplicity that, in the week before
enclosure, he threatened to pull out of the project. Those same
sources say he was mollified enough to drop his threat only after
the Associated Press published a quote from Biosphere CEO Margaret
Augustine admitting that "closing it up, having the system come
into equilibrium and adjustment. . . without surprises, would be
very unusual."
     But at least one other high-ranking Biosphere scientist was
disgusted enough with the sc{*filter*} chicanery to tender his
resignation. In a memo to SBV management a week before enclosure,
and then in a follow-up note just 48 hours before the sealing of
the dome (a copy of which has been secured by the Voice), Rocky
Stewart, the project's senior software engineer and the man who
designed and customized the computer programs that run the
Biosphere's monitoring systems, resigned his post, accusing SBV
management of engaging in a pattern of deception."
     In his resignation memo, dated September 24 and sent to SBV
management official Norberto Alvarez-Romo, Stewart says he "[does]
not have faith in a management that releases false statements on
progress to the media," and that "the CO2 problem is being swept
under the CO2 sc{*filter*} rather than solved."
     "From the data collected on CO2 production during past
closures," Stewart writes in his memo, "it is apparent that there
will be a problem controlling the residual level of CO2 inside the
biosphere. Even you have stated there is an excessive amount of
carbon in the biosphere, Also, I understand that the CO2 sc{*filter*}
purchased to deal with this problem can only extract up to 100 pm
per day for 90 days. The data collected to date indicates the
sc{*filter*} would have to run continuously during the summer months
just to keep up with CO2 production. During the winter months, we
should expect high~r CO2 levels due to reduced light. . . . It is
my opinion that the biosphere will close for only a small fraction
of the advertised two-year closure due to this CO2 problem."
     Concluding his memo, Stewart lambastes SBV for speeding up
enclosure before there was "enough time for even one full system
test even though the project is [already] two years behind
     When contacted by the Voice for further comment, Stewart
replied, "I can't comment on any of those items because I have been
threatened by SBV lawyers that any such discussion on my part would
lead to legal action against me." As documented by the Voice in two
previous reports on the Biosphere, SBV has a long history of using
legal threats to muzzle disillusioned scientists and former
employees who have attempted to publicly criticize the project.
     But sources inside SBV told the Voice that Stewart's
resignation on the eve of enclosure and his having put down on
paper the dirty secret of the CO2 sc{*filter*} sent Biosphere management
into a tizzy. A meeting of management and the scientific-technical
"nerve team" was hastily convened, say the sources, during which
Biosphere director of {*filter*}netic systems Norberto Alvarez-Romo
admitted that the enclosure date of last September 26 was chosen
not for scientific reasons but rather for "financial and political
concerns." Those financial concerns were, apparently, substantial
funding that was contingent upon the bubble being sealed. Given the
proprietary structure of SBV's for-profit finances, the Voice is
unable to independently confirm that contention.
     In a memo responding to Stewart's resignation letter and made
accessible to the Voice by a third party, SBV official Norberto
Alvarez-Romo also admits the existence of the sc{*filter*} but
downplays its importance, implying its inclusion in the system was
always assumed. Alvarez-Romo also contends that the sc{*filter*} will
be a two-way system, able to remain for an infinite period inside
the bubble. Once CO2 levels drop, he says, the limestone by-product
of the sc{*filter*} will be processed and turned back into the original
filtering agent, re-releasing the CO2 back into the atmosphere in
the process.
     But a former consultant to SBV, physiologist and air
management expert David Stumpf, says the use of CO2 sc{*filter*}s was
never contemplated in the original plans for the Biosphere. Indeed,
when Stumpf suggested to SBV management five years ago that
sc{*filter*}s might be necessary, he was overruled.
     "Computer modelling back in 1986 showed that the CO2 levels
could have wide ranges, so I brought it to SBV's attention and
recommended we employ some sort of scrubbing. I was told that was
out of the question; that sc{*filter*}s would be inappropriate to the
principles of the biosphere; that the problem would take care of
itself." When several Biosphere test module runs over the next two
years showed high levels of CO2, Stumpf became more insistent. After
being ignored, scorned, and, at least on one occasion, shouted down
by SBV's philosophical leader, John Allen, Stumpf finally resigned
his post.

What Goes In, Must Come Out

     At least five other air-mixture analysts and plant and animal
physiologists consulted by the Voice lend credence to Stewart's
allegation that the very existence of the CO2  sc{*filter*} inside the
Biosphere demonstrates a conscious decision by project management
to open up the bubble long before the much-publicized period of two
years. Yes, they say, theoretically the sc{*filter*}'s chemical
filtering agent could be infinitely recycled, meaning the bubble
would not have to be opened to load in more of it. Theoretically,
that is, if at some time CO2 levels drop far enough to permit the
burn-off of the sc{*filter*} by-product, which emits CO2 back into the
     But under current Biosphere conditions, where after only one
month CO2 levels are already 50 percent that of OSHA's allowable
standards for eight-hour exposures, and are still slowly rising,
and with winter and its reduced light sure to increase the levels
further, then the sc{*filter*} is simply running behind the curve.
Inexorably, then, the sc{*filter*} will run out of its cleansing agent,
CO2 levels will increase even more, and the Biosphere will have to
be unsealed.
     "I would say the level of 2500 pm of CO2 currently inside the
biosphere would be a matter of immediate concern," says Carnegie
Institution physiologist Dr. Joseph Berry. "For the moment, the
plants are happy with the elevated level. They grow faster. But I
would also suggest that the plants can't process any more CO2. When
you cross that point you lose control, you are looking at the
potential for a runaway situation with the carbon dioxide."
     Even before a full-scale CO2 runaway would occur, the
bio-ecological systems inside the Biosphere could be threatened.
Some analysts consulted raised questions about long-term exposure
of the Biosphere's artificial ocean to high concentrations of CO2.
That exposure would turn the water increasingly acidic, perhaps to
the point of damaging sea life.
     As to human life, "there is no immediate reason for medical
concern" even though elevated CO2 can alter breathing patterns and
rhythms, says Dr. Jerold Last, a researcher in pulmonary medicine
at the University of California at Davis. "But after millions of
years of human development we've reached a certain homeostasis that
I would be reluctant to want to see altered."
     If, in fact, the Biosphere has to be opened before its two-
year enclosure goal, the project and its managers could be in for
a devastating public relations hit. While the national media had
been uniformly flattering in its treatment of the experiment in the
years leading up to its formal commencement, by last September 26
a substantial portion of the coverage had begun to turn skeptical.
NBC Nightly News and ABC World News Tonight, along with Life and
Time magazines, were willing to raise the issues of cult control
over the project, and the at best questionable science behind the
experiment, issues first brought to public attention earlier this
year by the Voice series.
     The suspension of enclosure would come at a time when the
Biosphere has already suffered the desertion of prestigious
scientific supporters. A year ago some 200 bona fide scientists--
including researchers from the Smithsonian Institution, Yale, the
U.S. Geological Survey, the University of Arizona, and other
well-known public and private institutions-- chose to overlook the
cult connections of the project in exchange for lucrative private
grants doled out by the Biosphere. But adverse publicity has begun
to take its toll.
     The Phoenix Gazette reported one week before the project's
enclosure that the National Center for Atmospheric Research in
Boulder, Colorado, had been planning a joint study with the
Biosphere but had canceled those plans "after reading news reports
suggesting [SBV's Director of Science John] Allen and his followers
were members of a survivalist cult who shared a crackpot philosophy
and a doomsday vision." That report quoted NCAR staff scientist Lee
Ninger saying he had decided to table any involvement with the
Biosphere "until the political consequences of such work is
carefully determined."
     That same week another body blow was delivered to Biosphere's
scientific credibility when Dr. Walter Adey, director of the Marine
Systems Lab at the Smithsonian and designer of the Biosphere's
artificial ocean, formally severed his relations with the Arizona
group. Long the crown jewel in the Biosphere's private collection
of outside consultants, Dr. Adey was lavished with more than $1
million in grants from the Biosphere over a four-year period. Adey
would not return calls from the Voice, but he told the San
Francisco Examiner he was distancing himself from the Biosphere
because of a number of technical problems, including insufficient
light coming through the transparent dome to support the c{*filter*}reef
he installed in the artificial ocean.
     In a self-contradicting letter sent to the Examiner September
9, Adey said that while he still considered the Biosphere "one of
the more important scientific endeavors of the latter half of the
present century," he felt that continued collaboration would mean
that the "growing fields of synthetic and restoration ecology and
the reputation of myself and the Smithsonian were in turn being
     More dramatic still was Adey's assertion that because the
Biosphere's managers too quickly turned down advice from
ecologists, it was "highly unlikely" that the first crew of eight
people would actually stay inside for the entire two years
advertised by SBV. "I think they'll have to play with it several
years," Adey said, "and make some radical changes to make it
function properly."
     In the meantime, other scientists not compromised by the
Biosphere say its early collapse might be the most valuable
scientific contribution it could make. "If the carbon dioxide
levels eventually reach the uncontrollable, runaway stage," says
Joseph Berry of the Carnegie Institution, "then what you'll be
seeing inside the Biosphere will be a dramatic demonstration of the
greenhouse effect. And that, on a larger scale, is what is
happening to Earth. If it happens inside the Biosphere, then they
will have indeed replicated the Earth. Of course, unintentionally."

New Sig File Under Construction-- Light and Compact for your Usenet Pleasure.
"The recent problem with the satellite retrieval managed to prove one thing;
DeVries graduates really _do_ work for NASA."

Wed, 09 Nov 1994 10:51:24 GMT
 [ 1 post ] 

 Relevant Pages 

1. Biosphere Articles Part 1

2. Biosphere Articles Part 3

3. Biosphere Articles Part 2

4. Biosphere Articles Part 5

5. Biosphere Articles Part 4

6. Biosphere Articles Part 6

7. Biosphere Articles Part 8

8. The Biosphere II articles

9. The Biosphere Articles

10. Looking for Biosphere II articles

11. Biosphere Part II

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