EcoSphere

As my 27th birthday approaching, I already got my best birthday present ever: the EcoSphere! Here you can see it in 4x speed video.

I am planning to show its progress over time in here.

Processed with VSCOcam with a4 preset Ecosphere arrived – 30 January 2015

 IMG_9185Two of the four shrimps found dead – 14 April 2015

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Algae growth cannot be controlled – 17 May 2015

Remaining shrimps still alive. They got bigger in size and become darker red in color. However, because of the algae growth they are limited in movement in the ecosphere.

Although the ecosphere stands in very low light conditions (being fact that I am living in the Netherlands and nevertheless they are far away from possible sunlight) I couldn’t stop the rapid growth of algae. So I was covering the sphere with a black towel to prevent sunlight. And today the second day that I cover the ecosphere, I could only see two of my shrimps. After a long search for dead bodies, I found one of my live shrimps eating the dead one (the one on the left). At the moment I am not sure about the reason of their death. Is it pH increase due to algae growth or oxygen deficiency due to low light conditions? We will see…

What is EcoSphere?

Ecosphere is a closed minimal ecosystem. It is resulted from a project initiated by NASA. EcoSpheres are commercialised about 30 years ago. All the ecospheres labeled with a unique serial number so that the company can track its history and age of each ecosphere in case of a problem. Ecospheres have a lifespan of 2-3 years on average but there are systems that are living over 10 years.

This product can be treated as a science project, low maintenance pet or a closed aquarium.

How were EcoSpheres discovered?

Dr. Joe Hanson and Dr. Clair Folsome discovered and NASA become interested in these systems for a couple of reasons. Most importantly, they have potential to provide additional information on studies of Earth’s biosphere.

What is inside the EcoSphere?

Shrimp, filtered sea water, algae, gorgonian, bacteria and gravel.

Shrimps are selected because they do not show aggressive behaviour towards each other. The gorgonian, gravel and glass provide surface area for microorganisms to grow and hiding areas for shrimps. The gorgonian is a non-living material and is hand cut for each individual EcoSphere.

How the EcoSphere works?

ecosphere

The EcoSphere is like a biological battery. The energy gained through light is stored and biochemically transformed. The base for the algae to produce oxygen is photosynthesis, for which the algae require light and carbon dioxide. The shrimp breath the oxygen produced by the algae and eat some of the algae and bacteria in the system. The bacteria is also useful in many ways. It transforms the waste, which is produced in the system, into reusable nutrients for the algae. To close the circle of life and interdependence in the EcoSphere, the shrimp and bacteria both create carbon dioxide which is again needed by the algae to start the circle with photosynthesis. Through this distribution of labor the EcoSphere achieves a balance of nature in its most simplistic form.

Food cannot be produced for the shrimp if the system starves for light. An excess of light will stimulate the algae to use the limited nutrients quickly. Also the pH of water will increase in excess growth of algae which eventually kills shrimps. So, water chemistry is quite important for EcoSpheres.

EcoSpheres should be exposed to light for 4 to 12 hours daily. The light intensity should be quite low: Low indirect sunlight or ceiling mounted fluorescent lamps provide enough light. Direct sunlight increases the temperature inside the EcoSphere and also cause the algae to grow rapidly. Optimal temperature range is 15-27℃. Temperatures above 27℃ put excess stress on the system and below 15℃ metabolism of shrimps will slow down.

The shrimp eat algae and bacteria. They can also eat shed exoskeletons (shrimp are crustaceans, their skeleton is on the outside rather than inside). After the old exoskeleton is shed a new one expands and hardens. When shrimp dies, the bacteria will quickly returns its nutrients to the system. Nothing goes to waste.

Do the animals and plants reproduce in this ecosystem ?

Reproduction of shrimp does occur in some EcoSpheres, but this is uncommon. The shrimp that are in the EcoSphere have purposely been chosen because they do not exhibit aggressive behavior towards each other. The algae and bacteria in the EcoSphere continuously reproduce. In fact, as time goes by, you can expect changes in the algae population in your EcoSphere.

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