ORACLE — After tours were halted due to COVID-19, visitors will once again have the opportunity to visit Biosphere 2 — from the safety of their personal vehicles.
Beginning Friday, Biosphere 2 will offer evening self-guided driving tours around the premises. Visitors will be able to explore Biosphere 2 from their vehicles, guided by a mobile app specifically made for that purpose.
“For the first time, and for a limited time, we will be offering an opportunity to experience Biosphere 2 like never before, at nighttime and with spectacular illumination,” said Biosphere 2 Deputy Director John Adams.
Biosphere 2, designated as one of “50 must-see wonders of the world” by Time Life Books, remains closed for guided tours inside the facility until further notice.
Program managers, scientists and outreach specialists have been busy coming up with ideas for how the public can safely visit Biosphere 2 while adhering to physical distancing and other safety guidelines.
“With Biosphere 2 being a living laboratory in every respect, public visitation is a very central component to us, not only from an outreach standpoint, but also from a research point of view,” Adams said. “We love to have people out here, and we are very excited to be able to kick off our reopening process with this special tour, which was designed to maximize visitor and employee safety.”
Adams said the driving tour was developed as part of a plan that will allow the facility to resume its public opening in phases. This plan is being modified as the situation develops.
“As part of our phased reopening process, we are continuing to look to new and innovative ways to allow the public to explore this remarkable facility,” Adams said. “During this driving tour, guests will learn some really interesting history of how Biosphere 2 came to be, but also how the University of Arizona is using it today, an angle we haven’t offered until now.”
Visitors are required to remain in their vehicles during the tour, which takes between 20 and 25 minutes to complete. The admission price of $20 is good for one vehicle with up to six occupants. For a limited time, using the discount code “LIGHTS” at checkout will knock $5 off the regular price.
Once visitors enter the Biosphere 2 grounds through the main gate, they will follow a well-marked course, guided by an app on their mobile device. Moving at a leisurely speed of about 10 mph, they will work their way down to the core facilities of Biosphere 2. Along the way, the mobile “tour guide” will talk about current research happening at the Biosphere 2 rainforest, ocean and savannah habitats. Other stops include the desert biome and a closeup view of the “lung,” a unique feature that was designed to equalize air exchange during the lockdown experiment that made Biosphere 2 famous around the world.
Adams said the tour will be offered for the next two months.
“This is phase one of our reopening process,” he said. “We hope to be able to continue to host people on our property, but future opportunities for visitation may look very different.”
In preparation for reopening the inside of the facility to the public, additional airlocks will be installed to allow visitors to explore the facility in a directional path while maintaining physical distancing, Adams said.
“Being carefully optimistic, we hope to be able to open the inside by beginning of next year,” he said. “We will update the Biosphere 2 app as these conditions become available.”
“No other university in the world has anything like Biosphere 2,” said Joaquin Ruiz, who oversees Biosphere 2 as UA’s vice president of global environmental futures. “It’s the only place where you can study the grand challenges facing our planet right here, in real time, and using cutting-edge science. At Biosphere 2, our scientists are literally learning right now what we have to do now to ensure our planet continues to have a sustainable future.”
Biosphere 2 will be open for driving tours from 6 to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays beginning this week. Days and hours may expand in the future. Tickets must be purchased in advance on the Biosphere 2 website, and there will be a limited number of tickets sold per day.
Tickets can be used anytime beginning at 6 p.m. on the date for which they were purchased, but the last vehicle must be in line at 9:30 p.m. Visitors are encouraged to download the Biosphere 2 app from the Apple Store or Google Play before heading to Biosphere 2, as the signal on site can be spotty.