Lesson 6 

Introduction to Biospheres

Adapted from "Building a Terrarium" lesson by Scott Oberg


  • To think about sustainability and cultural values
  • To reflect on the current environmental challenges facing Hawaii and planet Earth and develop a plan for “planetary protection” of Mars
  • Gain knowledge on how a biosphere could work on another planet to sustain life
  • Gain understand that a biosphere is a self contained habitat which could be used on Mars 

Appendix 1 Biosphere Review Questions

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1.    Define a biosphere:
a.    What does 'Bio' mean in Latin? 
•    Life
b.    What does 'Sphere' mean in Latin?
•    The place or environment within which a person or thing exists
c.    Ask the students what they think a biosphere is?  Definitions:
•    All the Earth's ecosystems considered as a single, self-sustaining unit.
•    The parts of the land, sea, and atmosphere in which organisms are able to live.
d.    Why might people be interested in creating a biosphere that could sustain life?
2.    Review why explorers to Mars might need to build a biosphere on the Red planet:
a.    Temperature: too cold for humans to live without a habitat
b.    Atmosphere: not enough oxygen for humans and life sustaining plants and animals to survive
c.    Earth-like environment is needed to survive
3.    Review the Hawaiian ahupua’a and these topics:
a.    Nutrient use- how nitrogen and nutrients were used within the ahupua’a for sustainable living
b.    Land division- how the land was divided from the mountains to the sea
in order to utilized the entire island in every region
c.    Entire community responsible for caring for and nurturing the ‘aina for a sustainable lifestyle for all.
4.    Review core Hawaiian cultural values (pvs.hawaii.org):
a.    Malama Hawai'i: to care for/take care of Hawai'i's land, sea, and people
b.    'Ike: to seek knowledge
c.    Lokomaika'i: to share with each other
d.    Malama Pono: to take care of each other
e.    Na'au Pono: to be fair and just

5.    Discuss the Hawaiian vocabulary of these cultural beliefs (Appendix 5):
a.    Aloha: Love, hello, goodbye
b.    Ha’aha’a: Humility
c.    Kokua: Help
d.    Kuleana: Responsibility
e.    Laulima: Cooperation, many helping hands
f.    Lokahi: Balance, harmony, togetherness
g.    Mahalo: Respect, thank you
h.    Malama: To take care of
i.    ‘Ohana: Family
j.    Pono: Good, righteous

6.    Discuss what the students just reviewed:  How does the traditional Hawaiian ahupua'a system compare to modern practices?
•     If humans were to travel to another planet we would need to bring life sustaining items (review Lesson 5) and build a habitat to live within and grow our life sustaining plants and animals.
•    Explorers to Mars would need to build a sustainable habitat and practice a sustainable lifestyle like the early Hawaiians in order for people to live on the far away planet successfully
Discussion about Biospheres/ Terrariums
1.   1.    Discuss with the students topics covered in the book Terrariums by Alice Parker and websites in the reference section:

a.    Water cycle
What are clouds?  What are they made of?  What is rain? Why does it rain?  Lead the discussion towards the topics of evaporation, condensation, and precipitation.
b.    Habitats
What types of habitats can we create in our biospheres?  Dessert, rain forest, Semi-arid.
c.    Interdependence
How are the elements within a biosphere interdependent on one another? 
d.    Soil Composition
How is the different sizes of the soil particles used within the biosphere?
e.    Carbon-Oxygen cycle
Carbon and oxygen present in “earth-like” atmosphere and hydrosphere.  Carbon is acquired by plants through photosynthesis from the carbon dioxide of the air and a reaction with water from the soil to form glucose.  During this process oxygen is released to the atmosphere from the plants.
f.    Nitrogen cycle
All living things need nitrogen to produce proteins.  Nitrogen, which is abundant in “earth-like” atmosphere, combines with oxygen as a nitrate so that plants may absorb it.  The plant is able to produce the proteins it requires in order to thrive.  Animals who eat the plants ingest the important nitrogen molecules to produce more protein. 

2.    Discuss with the students the biosphere that was built in Arizona for human habitation (Reference section).  Discuss the other websites from the reference section and go to the websites with the class (computer with web capabilities and projector required) so the students can understand that people are attempting to make self contained habitats on Earth for possible use on another planet. 

Handout Biosphere Review Questions (Appendix 1) for homework

Building terrarium
Arizona living biosphere http://www.biospheres.com/experimentchrono1.html
Nitrogen cycle in terrariums http://www.boomspeed.com/shadowedfate/imgs/biology.htm
Biosphere 2 Center website: http://www.desertusa.com/mag99/apr/stories/bios2.html
Living in the Biosphere: Production, Pattern, Population, and Diversity By Dwight Brown
A Bog Terrarium http://www.k12.nf.ca/gc/scienceweb/Environmental/enviroterrain.htm

Elbert, V. & G.A. (1973). Fun With Terrarium Gardening. New York: Crown Publishing.
Kramer, J. (1969). Gardens Under Glass. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Kramer, J. (1974). The Complete Book of Terrarium Gardening.  New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.
Parker, Alice.  (1977). Terrariums. New York: Franklin Watts.
Wong, H.H. & Vessel, M. F. (1969). Our Terrariums.  Addison-Wesley.

Assessment/Performance Indicators: 

Informal assessment:  

Discussion with question and answers

Formal assessment:  

Biosphere Review Questions for Homework (Appendix 1)



Standard 1: The Scientific Process: SCIENTIFIC INVESTIGATION: "Discover, invent, and investigate using the skills necessary to engage in the scientific process"
Benchmark SC.5.1.1 “Identify the variables in scientific investigations and recognize the
importance of controlling variables in scientific experiments.”

Benchmark SC.5.1.2: Scientific Inquiry: “Formulate and defend conclusions based on

Standard 2: The Scientific Process: NATURE OF SCIENCE: "Understand that science,
Technology, and society are interrelated."

Benchmark SC.5.2.1: “Use models and/or simulations to represent and investigate features of objects, events, and processes in the real world.”

General Learner Outcomes:
Community Contributor:  “The understanding that it is essential for human beings to work together”
Quality Producer “The ability to recognize and produce quality performance and quality products”
Effective Communicator:  “The ability to communicate effectively”