Life-Sized Environmental Research: Outdoor StreamLab

To develop science-based approaches for restoring the nation's degraded waterways, there is a critical need to understand the underlying physical, biological, and chemical mechanisms that govern stream processes and their response to natural and human disturbances. The Outdoor StreamLab (OSL) is a premier research facility developed by SAFL and the National Center for Earth-surface Dynamics (NCED) at the University of Minnesota in the heart of downtown Minneapolis. OSL brings together river scientists, engineers, and managers to explore river flow and riparian zone ecology. View publications featuring OSL research.


The Outdoor StreamLab is uniquely equipped to:

  • Quantify physical, chemical, and biological processes from microscopic to reach scales with high-resolution laboratory-quality measurements
  • Conduct hydrological and ecological field-scale experiments under controlled conditions
  • Impose and repeat steady and unsteady inlet hydrographs, including overbank floods
  • Provide verification for advanced computational models
  • Host highly visible formal and informal education

Specific features include:

  • Sediment Collection Basin: Water and sediment flow into a basin where sediment is collected, measured and recirculated to the sediment feeder.  Water flows back to the Mississippi River below St. Anthony Falls.
  • Sediment Feeder: Sediment feed is controlled with a variable speed auger (current sediment size is approximately 0.7 mm).
  • Water FlowMississippi River water is fed into the stream year round. Maximum flow rate is 2,400 L/s.
  • RifflesRiffles constructed out of cobble size rocks provide stable stream bed habitat for stream biota.
  • Riparian Basin: The OSL (20 m x 40 m) is a meandering stream flowing through a vegetated floodplain. Researchers use piezometers to monitor groundwater near the stream.
  • Instrumentation: A computer controlled instrument carriage is used to collect measurements (bed topography, velocity, temperature, dissolved oxygen, etc.) in the OSL coordinate system.
  • Channel: The OSL basin is designed to be adaptable to different stream configurations. Current stream dimensions:
    • Average Width: 2.7m
    • Average Depth: 0.3m
    • Average Bed Slope: 0.007
    • Median Stream Bed Grain Size: 0.7mm
    • Sinuosity: 1.3

We welcome projects that make use of our unique stream research facility. Please contact the OSL Research Manager Jessica Kozarek ( or 612-624-4679) for more information.