Biosphere 2 – Using Flow Measurement to Glimpse the Future

by Carol Schumaker

As the Earth’s climate changes, it is expected that ecosystems around the world will be subjected to increased water stress and/or drought. It is difficult to forecast the range of impacts climate change will have on soil, air, and water quality. In 2019, a group of interdisciplinary scientists from around the world came together to conduct a highly-controlled experiment to measure the effects of water stress on a rainforest ecosystem.

This unique experiment took place in a man-made structure called Biosphere 2. Biosphere 2 is a multi-million dollar facility that was built in the 1980’s to simulate a fully contained Earth ecosystem. The facility is now used for research, education, and tourism.

Figure 1 Biosphere 2, located in Arizona

Biosphere 2, located in Arizona

In October 2019, Biosphere 2’s tropical rainforest biome was closed to the public and about $12,000 worth of carbon dioxide, spiked with an isotopic tracer called Carbon 13, was released into the system. Carbon 13 is an isotope that occurs relatively infrequently in nature, so it was used as a tool to track and measure changes in soil, water, and air systems.

That’s where Alicat came in.

Director of Biosphere 2, Dr. Laura Meredith, had experience using Alicat controllers in other experiments during her time at the University of Arizona Landscape Evolution Observatory. Dr. Meredith was pleased with the accuracy and repeatability of the Alicat controllers, so reached out in search of a partnership.

Alicat Mass Flow Controllers in Biosphere 2

Alicat Mass Flow Controllers in Biosphere 2

Alicat was excited to be part of this important and unique experiment. The company provided the project team with nearly 30 mass flow controllers that were used for a variety of applications, including accurately controlling the release of Carbon 13.

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