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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Rainforest tours open

    Students tired of living in a desert now have the opportunity to peruse a lush rainforest.

    The UA-managed Biosphere 2 opens its rainforest area to the public today as part of an expanded facility tour, allowing anyone to closely study an environment with strong resemblances to the tropical Brazilian Amazon.

    The tours, which each span an hour, will now include virtually every salient physical aspect of the 3.14-acre campus, which opened in 1991. The university took over the facility in July to pursue environmental research.

    “”I think it’s an amazing opportunity for the public to be able to go inside Biosphere 2 because for such a long period of time, it wasn’t open, and now you have an opportunity to traverse just about every biome there is,”” said John Adams, Biosphere’s assistant director for planning and facilities.

    The rainforest, enclosed under glass, features rainfall and more than 150 species of plants, some of which stand more than 60 feet tall.

    The UA has spent the last two months readying the environment for visitation. The biome’s humidity presented footing problems, and its 81-foot walking path, shaped in a semi-circle, was outfitted with a plastic-wood composite that protects against slipping and which requires no maintenance, Adams said.

    The rainforest now represents one of the final legs of the tour, as visitors will venture through nearly the entire campus.

    One begins in the former living quarters of the research teams that lived within the Biosphere during missions in 1991-1993 and 1994.

    Then, the tour proceeds into an upper savannah biome, featuring a 30-foot cliff overlooking an ocean; down into a lower savannah biome along a mangrove area; and down into a coastal fog desert before reaching the “”technosphere,”” the facility’s “”basement”” that contains all of the mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, Adams said.

    In terms of square footage, the technosphere occupies nearly as much space as the whole above-ground campus, he said.

    Finally, one moves into the rainforest before walking back through the basement and into one of Biosphere’s two “”lung tunnels,”” Adams said.

    The tunnels are used to facilitate the change in air pressure needed to sustain the biomes, as the facility itself is sealed off from the outside world, he said.

    The lungs are presently inflated and together hold up to nearly 1.1 million cubic feet of air, Adams said.

    “”(The tour) really gives a sense of how large and complex this facility is, in a number of aspects,”” he said.

    A guide leads each of the seven tours daily, which begin at 9:15 a.m. and run until 4 p.m.

    Visitors in the rainforest area will also receive information from four UA undergraduates and three graduate students currently performing research with the Amazon-Partnership for International Research, said Matt Adamson, Biosphere’s coordinator for education and outreach.

    Amazon-PIRE is a five-year, $2.5 million project funded mostly by the National Science Foundation and headed by Scott Saleska, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology.

    The project aims to get the students experience in a rainforest-like environment before they take an exchange trip to the Amazon in Brazil to continue their research, Adamson said.

    While guides will officially lead the tours, they will defer to the students to allow them to explain aspects of the rainforest in greater depth, as well as highlight recent discoveries, he said.

    Tours are being offered seven days a week. Adult admission costs $20, although two students can get in for the price of one if they show CatCards, Adamson said.

    While one perk of the tour is getting an educational experience from students, many people will likely be drawn to the vastly unique environment the rainforest offers.

    “”Agonizingly, they couldn’t see it on a tour before, but now they can,”” Adamson said.

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