Landscape Evolution Observatory Terraformation VIP at Biosphere 2


The goal of this VIP is to understand feedback mechanisms between life, hydrology, and geochemistry, how those mechanisms scale, and how different disciplines converge to address scientific questions on landscape terraformation. The Biosphere 2 Landscape Evolution Observatory (LEO) is discovering answers to the fundamental question of landscape terraformation: how does life expand and sustain itself, in increasingly complex forms (from simple microbial life, to non-vascular mosses, to vascular plant-microbe associations with complex hydraulic architectures and life-sustaining symbioses), across landscapes at multiple scales to transform bare rock into complex multi-function ecosystems? Insights gained from LEO can help us learn new ways to address problems ranging from how to build sustainable life support systems for other planets to restoring severely degraded landscapes from mining or other processes. Students will have the opportunity to work with a transdisciplinary team consisting of engineers, educators, hydrologists, modelers, geochemists, social scientists, ecologists, botanists, microbiologists, and remote sensing scientists.

Basic courses for the Landscape Terraformation VIP will include:

  • Landscape terraformation seminar, featuring student participation on discussing papers from a wide range of topics and fields, such as hydrology, geochemistry, biology, remote sensing, data science, and modeling.

Issues Involved or Addressed

At LEO, we have the capacity to include students in projects that span multiple disciplines, skills, and scales:

  • How does the composition and function of microbial communities change at different stages of landscape evolution?
  • How do different kinds of plants, with different root forms or leaf water regulation strategies perform in early successional soils? 
  • How does the introduction of vascular plants affect the cycling of water and the geochemical weathering in hillslopes?  
  • Can we predict the evolving landscape scale pattern of colonization by early successional mosses? 
  • How does the spatial distribution of microclimate (soil moisture and temperature) affect the success of microbes and plants on the hillslopes? 
  • How do we observe, measure, and facilitate the convergence of new languages, models, and techniques for the study of landscape evolution?

Methods and Tech

Students will be trained in any methods required for participation, which may include:

  • Scientific programming (R, Python, Matlab, etc.)
  • Statistical data analysis and visualization
  • Science communication
  • Data curation and archiving
  • Technical skills (i.e. sensor operation and maintenance)

Academic Majors of Interest

Open to all majors, with particular interest in the sciences and mathematics, including:

  • School of Natural Resources and the Environment
  • Ecology & Evolutionary Biology
  • Computer Science
  • Data Science
  • Environmental Science
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Biosystems & Systems Engineering
  • Sustainable Built Environments
  • Sciences: Physics, Atmospheric, Hydrology, Soil, Geo, Microbial
  • Technology
  • Math
  • Science, Technology, and Society
  • Environmental Economics
  • Health Sciences
  • iSchool
  • School of Anthropology
  • School of Geography
  • School of Art
  • College of Social and Behavioral Sciences

Preferred Interests and Preparation

  • Self-motivated
  • Comfortable with uncertainty
  • Work well independently and in teams
  • Passion and dedication
  • Creativity, collaboration, and leadership skills
  • Organization and attention to detail
  • Ability to work in hot environments
  • Ability to travel to Biosphere 2 either via our work van or own transportation

Application Process

To express interest in this team, please complete the VIP Interest Form and select "Landscape Evolution Observatory Terraformation VIP at Biosphere 2"

Team Advisors

Scott Saleska, PhD

Katerina Dontsova, PhD

Wei-Ren Ng, MS