Geek Trivia

The Absence Of Wind In The Biosphere 2 Research Lab Proved Severely Detrimental To?

What Ornamental Feature Did 19th Century English Aristocrats Keep On Their Estates?

Answer: Trees

The early 1990s-era science experiment Biosphere 2, an enormous closed Earth systems research facility designed to mimic Earth biomes, was plagued with problems from the start. Carbon dioxide was reacting with exposed concrete inside, it was difficult to sustain any sort of food self-sufficiency, and the trees fell down.

While the problems with the trees might not have been as headline generating as problems with the levels of oxygen or drama stemming from problems with the crew and management of the facility, it was certainly an interesting and unanticipated twist. Out in the real world, good old Biosphere 1, trees are exposed to wind from the time they are saplings. The wind pushes against the trunk and branches of the tree causing the tree to sway in the wind and the branches to move about. This movement actually changes the tree and creates what is known as “stress (reaction) wood.” The stress wood strengthens the tree by changing the ratios of cellulose, lignin, and normal wood such that the tree can grow properly and stand strongly against the constant pull of gravity.

The trees grown in Biosphere 2, in the absence of the nearly constant and variable action of the wind upon their trunks and branches, failed to grow the stress wood that would help them strand strong. Without the stress of the wind during their development, they couldn’t support their mature mass. Biosphere 2 might not have been a particularly successful experiment, but at least we can take that bit of wisdom away from it all: the stresses endured in youth provide the strength to hold yourself up as an adult.

Image courtesy of John Dedios.