In a closed ecological system, the maintenance of life happens through complete re-use of available material by means of cycles. Exhaled carbon dioxide and other waste matter is renewed chemically or by photosynthesis into oxygen, water and food.

Will Closed Ecological Systems Save the Planet?
Will Closed Ecological Systems Save the Planet?

Len Calderone

In a closed ecological system, the maintenance of life happens through complete re-use of available material by means of cycles. Exhaled carbon dioxide and other waste matter is renewed chemically or by photosynthesis into oxygen, water and food.

The earth is a closed ecological system in the environment of space, which provides life support for humans and other biological living things. Luckily, there is an abundant supply of oxygen for breathing, as well as water and food. Earth’s ecosystem recycles air, liquid and solid waste through biological and chemical processes. 

Humans have already initiated the process of designing and building tightly sealed ecological test facilities and environments. Projects, such as the space station and biospheres, were created with a vision towards building ecosystems that can maintain life with air, water, and food in far off destinations such as the moon. By studying ecology, chemistry, biology, and weather patterns, we can understand how to create bio-regenerative environments.

Biosphere2 / University of Arizona  (Wikimedia commons)

Bioregenerative food production systems for the space station and closed ecological systems has helped scientists gain an understanding of some of the basic processes of how plants grow on Earth, and challenged existing scientific theories. Scientists observed that the bowing in different directions of the growing tip of many plants, especially seen in climbing plants, is an effect of interaction between the plant’s own internal signals, gravity and light—not just gravity alone. 

Studies showed that the patterns of root waving and twisting during sprouting are comparable on Earth as they are in space. This indicates that gravity is not a significant factor for these patterns of root growth. Plant experiments performed on the space station indicated that the developmental cycle of plants, and basic processes do not depend on the spaceflight conditions.

There is a parallel between the challenges facing bioregenerative life support in an artificially closed ecological system and challenges in our global biosphere. With the expanding human population, it is ever more obvious that Earth’s biosphere can no longer safely absorb manmade pollutants. 

Courtesy: NASA / Goddard Space Flight Center

The loss of biodiversity, reliance on non-renewable natural resources (fossil fuels), and conversion of wild ecosystems for human use, has led to the widespread call for avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to preserve an ecological balance. The small volumes and faster cycling times in the Earth's biosphere make it clear that ecosystems must be designed to guarantee the renewal of water and atmosphere, nutrient recycling, production of healthy food, and safe environmental processes for maintaining technical systems. 

The expansion of technical systems that can be fully integrated and supportive of living systems is an indication of new perceptions and technologies in the global environment. Closed ecological systems offers opportunities for public education and the change of consciousness for how we live in our global biosphere.

Closed ecological systems can comprise of not only a natural variety, but also artificial systems planned and managed by humans. These can range from agricultural systems down to mesocosms, microcosms, and aquaria, which may have real-world or research applications. Some uses may necessitate the design of systems that are completely closed, as concerns material cycling. In all cases, mathematical modeling can help to appreciate the dynamic forces of the system, and the design approaches of control to keep the system operating in desired ranges.

The term, Closed Ecological System, is widely used. Yet, there is no commonly recognized measure of the closure of ecological systems. To acquire the reproducibility of experiments with natural and man-made closed ecological systems a number of universal estimates have to be developed. 

Closed Ecological System farming is a procedure that recycles all nutrients and organic matter back into the soil that it grew in. This agricultural practice preserves the nutrient and carbon levels within the soil and allows farming to be carried out on a balanced basis. Closed ecological systems are needed for a number of objectives. In space, material closure allows important life-supporting resources to be conserved inside and recycled, while closed ecological systems in small biospheric systems assist with the in depth measurement of global ecological processes and biogeochemical cycles. 

Photo: Mike nelson flickr.com

Closed ecological systems facilitate research subjects, which require isolation from the outside, such as genetically modified organisms so that their ecological interactions can be examined apart from the interactions with the outside environment. Closure of a system involves solving complex ecological challenges, which include being able to handle faster cycling rates and manage daily and seasonal changes of critical life elements such as carbon dioxide, oxygen, water, and nutrients. 

The problem of attaining sustainability in a closed system include how to handle atmospheric dynamics, which includes trace gases, recycling nutrients, maintaining soil fertility, sustaining healthy air and water, and preventing the loss of crucial elements. In closed ecological systems, the challenge is to produce similarities to the natural community of flora and fauna as well as ecosystems.  

Other challenges include the dynamics and genetics of small populations, the psychological challenges for small isolated human groups and measures and options which may be necessary to ensure long-term operation of closed ecological systems.

Artificially created closed ecological systems have been studied both experimentally and theoretically for over two decades. The size of these systems varied from less than one quart to many thousands of cubic yards in volume. The included components in the system have a wide range from purely aquatic systems to soil based systems that include many characteristics of the Earth's biosphere. 

Man-made closed ecosystems are a solution for diverse applications on Earth in human settlements, planning for a high quality of life under extreme environmental environments, such as deserts, mountains and industrially polluted areas. Also, of prime importance is the development of an eco-home intended to provide people with a high quality of life in Arctic and Antarctic regions. 

The developed technology of energy makes it possible to provide for a continuous supply of fresh vegetables, purification of water and air, habitual color and light conditions during the winter. Closed ecological systems based on the technology described is realistic today, and rests on the energy available and the resolution of decision makers. 

While a good deal has been learned about the functioning of these closed ecological systems, much awaits to be studied, which would help with the Earth’s own closed ecological system. 

 

Editors Recommendation "Universal Automation in Agriculture"

The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of AgriTechTomorrow

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