Mar 7, 2014 12:53 PM by Faye DeHoff
TUCSON - This weekend the Biosphere 2 Ocean Gallery reopens with the transformation of the "ocean habitat" into a living model of the Sea of Cortez for public outreach and research.
As part of a major makeover, the gallery features a new exhibit showcasing the wonders and challenges of the Sea of Cortez, also called the Gulf of California, and its connections with the Sonoran Desert.
In one of the University of Arizona's first forays into crowd funding, Biosphere 2 also announces the launch of the RocketHub campaign, "Build an Ocean in the Desert," which aims to help fund the design and transformation of Biosphere 2's ocean biome into a miniature "desert sea" complete with a cactus-studded island, an underwater forest and rocky shorelines.
"The Rocket Hub project will allow us to develop plans and begin the initial implementation of our transformation," said Rafe Sagarin of the UA Institute of the Environment, who manages the project. "We are bringing together the world's experts on aquarium design, museum interpretation, the natural history of the Gulf of California and ecosystem-scale science."
The planned transformation will occur in phases, starting with the Ocean Gallery, which has been transformed to engage visitors with the stories connecting Biosphere 2 and the Gulf of California, arranged around large windows that look right inside the ocean tank.
"Our goals are to show our many visitors the unexpected connections between desert and sea, to display some of the amazing life of the Gulf of California, and share powerful stories about efforts to protect the Gulf's imperiled biological and cultural diversity," Sagarin said. "The 'Desert Sea' that we want to create with our 700,000-gallon ocean will be a place for getting visiting students - many of whom have never seen the ocean - excited about the marine environment, as well as a platform for marine research, a marine technology test bed and even a unique PADI-certified site to train scuba divers." PADI stands for Professional Association of Diving Instructors.
Once a living coral reef, the ocean biome in Biosphere 2 was an integral part of the massive 3.14-acre ecosystem greenhouse that was home to an ambitious experiment to keep eight humans alive in isolation from the outside world for two years. Now the University of Arizona operates Biosphere 2 as a science, public education and outreach facility, with cutting-edge science on rain forests, global change, microbiology, solar energy and water conservation. Biosphere 2 is unique in the world because it is a facility large enough to be able to capture some of the complexity of real ecosystems, yet controllable enough to conduct research that isn't possible - or too dangerous - in the real world.
"Our Desert Sea project is a big undertaking, but Biosphere 2 has always been about making big, audacious projects come to life," Sagarin said. "By funding part of this project on RocketHub, we hope to draw a wide audience of people who will not only help us launch, but also become interested in the many exciting science and outreach projects going on right now at B2. Even small donors will get their name in the Biosphere when the project is complete, and awards for larger donors include behind-the-scenes tours, a chance to spend the night at B2, even the opportunity to dive in the B2 ocean."
An introductory video for the project can be found at <http://vimeo.com/88325332> , and a presentation on the project is available online at <http://prezi.com/dfznn8o1de9p/the-desert-sea-at-biosphere-2-rocket-hub> .
The reopening is Saturday, March 8 at 5 p.m. at the UA Biosphere 2 at 32540 S. Biosphere Road in Oracle.