The University of Arizona assumed ownership of Biosphere 2 in July 2011.  A generous gift from the Philecology Foundation helps fund Biosphere 2 operations and some research projects. Other grants and awards, primarily from the National Science Foundation, also support research activities.

In the 1800s, the Biosphere 2 property was part of the Samaniego CDO Ranch. After several changes of ownership, it became a conference center in the 1960s and 1970s, first for Motorola, then for The University of Arizona. Space Biospheres Ventures bought the property in 1984 and began construction of the current facility in 1986 to research and develop self-sustaining space-colonization technology.

Two missions, between 1991 and 1994, sealed Biospherians inside the glass enclosure to measure survivability. Behind this highly public exercise was useful research that helped further ecological understanding. Several first-person accounts have been published by former crew members that provide different perspectives on the experiment.

In 1994, Decisions Investments Corporation assumed control of the property and Columbia University managed it from 1996-2003 and reconfigured the structure for a different mode of scientific research, including a study on the effects of carbon dioxide on plants. Columbia also built classrooms and housing for college students of earth systems science.

The property was sold June 4, 2007, to CDO Ranching and its development partners who then leased the property to UA from 2007-2011. The enclosure now serves as a tool to support research already underway by UA scientists. As a laboratory for large-scale projects, such as the Landscape Evolution Observatory (LEO), the university's stewardship of Biosphere 2 will allow the UA to perform key experiments aimed at quantifying some of the consequences of global climate change.