Biosphere 2 to add life to LEO

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) – Recently, the National Science Foundation awarded Biosphere 2’s Landscape Evolution Observatory with a $ 3.5 million grant to study the growth of life in certain landscapes, in particular those affected by fires or volcanic eruptions.

The Landscape Evolution Observatory or LEO is the world’s largest laboratory experiment in interdisciplinary earth sciences and is dedicated to understanding complex ecosystems. After years of planning, construction began in 2011 and took approximately 15 months.

Over the past five years, scientists have observed how landscapes change without plant life other than moss and microbes. Now, the grant will allow the team to grow plants and turn them into a more complete ecosystem.

“It’s a new lab where we can learn to build ecosystems from scratch,” said Scott Saleska, director of the University of Arizona and LEO. “There is nothing growing now, but we just received a $ 3.5 million grant to help bring LEO to life.”

Saleska said the experience helps shed light on the impacts of climate change on our ecosystem, especially in terms of water. He said the experience helps them understand how landscapes work, which will help us learn how to restore damaged landscapes.

“The idea is that this will give us the science to restore landscapes, recover the grinding residues in mines and deal with desertification and all the problems that are shaking our globe due to climate change,” said Saleska. .

Because LEO allows scientists to watch an ecosystem develop from scratch, Saleska said it’s key to basic science and preparing for the future.

Leo consists of three 100-foot-long steel structures inside glass domes at Biosphere 2 filled with crushed basalt rock, armed with over 1,800 sensors for observation. It mimics the watershed in the natural world, which is the area of ​​land where all of the flowing water goes to one place like a lake or stream.

“We have rain sprinklers here that create rain and one of the big fundamental issues in bringing life to the Lion or life to the planet is water,” Saleska said. “And it’s about learning how life interacts with water, especially as water becomes more limited, as is happening in Arizona because of climate change.”

The new research will provide insight into the effects of climate change on landscapes and even help teach astronauts how to grow crops on Mars.
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