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World’s Largest Earth Science Experiment to Begin at UA’s Biosphere 2

Commissioning of the Landscape Evolution Observatory, or LEO, the world’s only artificial watershed located at the University of Arizona Biosphere 2. Members of the media will have opportunities to interview key scientists and shoot video of the experiment before a formal ceremony.
Thursday, Nov. 29
12:30-1:30 p.m. – Media preview: Media will receive a tour of the facility and will have the opportunity to ask questions during an availability with LEO Science Committee members Peter Troch, Travis Huxman and Stephen DeLong and UA College of Science Dean Joaquin Ruiz.

2-2:45 p.m. – Formal LEO commissioning program begins with a welcome and remarks. During this time, LEO will experience its first artificial rain.

UA Biosphere 2
32540 S. Biosphere Road
Oracle, Ariz. 85623
Please RSVP for the media preview by Nov. 20 to Daniel Stolte, University Communications, 520-626-4402 or
The world's largest interdisciplinary Earth science experiment has been constructed by the UA in the newly renovated and reinvigorated Biosphere 2. The recently completed Landscape Evolution Observatory is designed to reproduce the complex physical and biological interactions that occur in the zone from the bottom of the soil to the lower atmosphere - the critical zone where terrestrial life evolves and adapts to a changing Earth.

Predicting how the Earth’s land surface processes interact with and feed back on the atmospheric, biological and hydrological processes is of unprecedented societal relevance because of the synergistic impact of rapid, extensive changes in land use and global climate.

Housed inside the environmentally controlled greenhouse facility of the UA Biosphere 2, LEO aims to reveal better ways to understand and manage global water resources by providing researchers with real evidence of how the changing climate will affect movement of water and how the atmosphere interacts with the soil. LEO also will yield new insights into a fundamental characteristic of our planet, the co-evolution of life and rock.

Consisting of three sensor-studded, steel-supported watersheds 100 feet long and 40 feet wide, LEO will allow scientists to address fundamental “grand challenges” in Earth systems science such as:

• How will Earth's landscapes change as climate changes?
• How do water, energy and carbon move through landscapes?
• How do biological systems such as vegetation and microbial
communities modify landscapes?
• How will terrestrial water resources alter with climate change?
A network of more than 1,800 sensors and samplers arrayed through each slope will take measurements of the movement of water, energy, nutrients and carbon through engineered landscapes that approach the physical size and complexity of natural landscapes.

Eventually plants will be added to the soil, allowing an unprecedented look at how the development of life and biological systems feedback with dynamic physical processes.

By allowing scientists to run different climate scenarios, LEO makes it possible to understand how water moves through soil and how plants and microbes feedback on the atmosphere in response to, for example, a series of rains followed by a drought.

LEO’s synthetic landscape project is embracing an interdisciplinary approach to experimental design: hydrologists, geomorphologists, geochemists, atmospheric scientists, ecologists and genomicists from the UA and beyond all are collaborating. Rapid data collection and analysis from the LEO project will provide new means of improving computer models that are used to predict how Earth systems will behave in the face of changing climate.

Biosphere 2 offers unique opportunities for the exploration of complex questions in Earth Sciences because it provides space for large-scale experimentation with a high degree of environmental control and dense measurement capability such that realistic complexity can be observed and measured in more detail than in natural systems.


Biosphere 2:
Landscape Evolution Observatory:
John Adams, Biosphere 2 (520-838-6155 or 520-490-2575;

Daniel Stolte, University Communications (520-626-4402;

Daniel Stolte | University of Arizona
Further information:

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