The Azimuth Project
Closed artificial ecosystem


Closed artificial ecosystems are ecosystems, which are recreated in a laboratory.

Wikipedia contains some overview.

Wikipedia lists Biosphere 2, MELiSSA, and the BIOS-1, BIOS-2, and BIOS-3 projects.

Biosphere 2 is currently a research center of the University of Arizona. It hosted two important missions. Both missions had severe problems to regulate the O2 concentration. In particular bacteria in the soil were playing a major role in the debalance (from Wikipedia):

Many suspected the drop in oxygen was due to microbes in the soil. The soils were selected to have enough carbon to provide for the plants of the ecosystems to grow from infancy to maturity, a plant mass increase of perhaps 20 tons (18,000 kg).[25] The release rate of that soil carbon as carbon dioxide by respiration of soil microbes was an unknown that the Biosphere 2 experiment was designed to reveal.


The respiration rate was faster than the photosynthesis (possibly in part due to relatively low light penetration through the glazed structure) resulting in a slow decrease of oxygen. A mystery accompanied the oxygen decline: the corresponding increase in carbon dioxide did not appear. This concealed the underlying process until an investigation by Jeff Severinghaus and Wallace Broecker of Columbia University’s Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory using isotopic analysis showed that carbon dioxide was reacting with exposed concrete inside Biosphere 2 to form calcium carbonate, thereby sequestering both carbon and oxygen.[26]

citation [24], [25] and [26] is (unverified):

[24]^ Nelson, M, W. F. Dempster, N. Alvarez-Romo, T. MacCallum. 1994, Atmospheric Dynamics and bioregenerative technologies in a soil-based ecological life support system: Initial results from Biosphere 2. Advances in Space Research14 (11):417-426)

[25]^ Nelson and Dempster, 1996, op cit.

[26]^ Severinghaus, J.P. , W. Broecker, W. Dempster, T. MacCallum, and M. Wahlen. 1994. Oxygen Loss in Biosphere 2. EOS, Transactions of the American Geophysical Union, vol. 75, no. 3, pp. 33, 35-37

It would be very interesting to know what the methane concentrations were, finally it seems that especially wetlands emit methane (see eg this article.) The findings would be especially interesting for comparision with real world parameters. In particular the role of methane within the global climate seems to be not fully clear. It should also be mentioned that there are investigations which point into the direction that methane producing microorganisms Methanosarcina may have contributed to the extinctions in the Permian Triassic extinction event.

again from Wikipedia:

Biosphere 2 contained representative biomes: a 1,900 square meter rainforest, an 850 square meter ocean with a coral reef, a 450 square meter mangrove wetlands, a 1,300 square meter savannah grassland, a 1,400 square meter fog desert, a 2,500 square meter agricultural system, a human habitat, and a below-ground infrastructure.

It seems most of the former managers/engineers of the Biosphere mission are working at a company called globalecotechnics. I couldn’t find anything on the funding for the major projects which are run by this company.

It looks as if all other projects had been terminated.

The last MELISSA news is from 2006. The ESA website for Melissa was edited last in 2009.

The last news from BIOS-3 seems to be from 2010. The last sentence on this website is:

В целом, 2010 год явился подготовительным этапом для дальнейших международных исследований по замкнутым экосистемам как с европейскими, так и китайскими партнерами.

(translation without guarantee: end of 2010 will show the preparation of further international investigations on closed ecosystems like with european and chinese partners)

BIOS-3 was run by the russian academy of science. Since the russian academy had been under pressure, this may be problematic for the project.

addendum August 2017: Bios 3 took part in the European science project biosmhars from 2011-2013. Here some images from Bios 3.

The website of 2013 (which seems to be the most up-to-date) concludes with:

В конце ноября – начале декабря 2013 года по приглашению китайской стороны состоялся визит делегации ИБФ СО РАН в количестве шести человек во главе с директором ИБФ СО РАН академиком Дегерменджи А.Г. в Пекинский аэрокосмический университет, где развернуто строительство системы жизнеобеспечения. Целью визита является участие в работе международного совещания по замкнутым экосистемам и обсуждение возможностей широкомасштабного научного сотрудничества в области искусственных экологических систем. Подписан ряд документов, включая Соглашение о создании совместной научной лаборатории по тематике замкнутых экосистем.

which indicates a collaboration with China may take place.

A newer chinese experiment took place in 2014 at Yuegong-1 It had been reported about also
here (in russian). The article gives also a historical overview over BIOS-3 and reports on the project:

К сожалению, попытки добиться выделения бюджетных средств на модернизацию экспериментального комплекса и возобновления натурных экспериментов пока не принесли успеха.

So this rather sounds as if BIOS-3 is not operating anymore.

Athough it seems that there are major plans underway to even establish a village on the moon not much details seem sofar to be available on what this implies for the research on closed ecosystems.

It should be mentioned that ecosystems with a high degree of closedness are also studied in conjunction with Mars colonization.

For the case of Mars projects however e.g. the microbial life on Mars may eventually be included into missions like the Mars Desert Research Station. Ecological considerations play also a role in newer projects like Mars One.

Apart from the above mentioned problems of microbial/plant life balance the missions of Biosphere 2 encountered psychosocial and physical problems due to isolation and constrained living conditions. Among others mission 2 had to be terminated because of such problems. The project Mars 500 had an emphasis on this aspect (until 2011) and was according to Wikipedia supported by Russia and China and the ESA. Apparently however in order to avoid too much psychosocial strain Wikipedia cites a report on daily mail according to which Russian biologist Marina Tugusheva, 25 had been excluded from the project:

But an insider revealed a woman had been excluded from the running because her presence could cause awkward sexual tension which could ruin the experiment.

He revealed they turned down a highly-qualified female cosmonaut as a result.

‘There was a suitable woman,’ he said.

‘But we did not want to jeopardise the experiment with tension between the sexes. This might have happened with five men and one woman.’

Some comments on greenhouse gases (mainly CO2 though) and plant growth are also within the forum thread Global warming and thermodynamical quantities like about a computer simulation (by Benjamin N. Sulman, Richard P. Phillips, A. Christopher Oishi, Elena Shevliakova, and Stephen W. Pacala: Microbe-driven turnover offsets mineral-mediated storage of soil carbon under elevated CO2. Nature Climate Change) which displays how increased plant growth due to CO2 pollution may lead to increased microbiol soil activity and subsequent release of CO2.

category: ecology