Outdoor StreamLab

Overview picture of Outdoor StreamLab facility
Photo of a researcher putting a fish into an OSL test section
Photo of the OSL data carriage in operation
Photo of the OSL middle meander
Topographic scan of the OSL middle meander


Located adjacent to SAFL, the Outdoor StreamLab (OSL) is an experimental stream channel and floodplain system that offers laboratory-quality measurements and control in a field-scale setting. Measurement equipment in the OSL includes flow sensors, water chemistry sensors, and a data collection carriage. With a water inflow rate of up to 1,200 liters per second from the Mississippi River, water flows through the OSL channel and floodplain, through a sediment settling basin, and back into the Mississippi River.

This facility can be use for a variety of hydrological, ecological, and biological research opportunities, including but not limited to channel & floodplain interactions, vegetation & channel dynamics, and biogeochemical processes. The facility was developed by SAFL and the National Center for Earth-surface Dynamics (NCED), and brings together river scientists, engineers, and managers to explore river flow and riparian zone ecology.

We welcome projects that make use of our unique stream research facility. 

Interested in working in the newly renovated OSL? Please complete this simple questionnaire for projects planned in the OSL and Outdoor Research Space.

Please contact the OSL Research Manager Jessica Kozarek (jkozarek@umn.edu or 612-624-4679) for more information.

Facility Specifications

  • Basin size (includes channel and floodplain): 20 x 40 m 
  • Flow rate: 40 - 1,200 L/s
  • Average channel width: 2.5 m
  • Channel depth: 0.3 m
  • D50 sediment size: 

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

The Outdoor StreamLab has undergone exciting renovations! 

These improvements addressed operational capacity, safety and accessibility, and research capabilities and data collection. Renovations include:

  • Upgraded and enhanced datalogging system to add capacity for additional instrumentation
  • Infrastructure to move heavy instrumentation within the OSL safely and efficiently. Named the SLOTH (StreamLab Over Terrain Hoist), this mobile hoist moves equipment with ease.
  • WiFi installation will support researchers in data collection and processing and expand open-source and DIY instrumentation capabilities
  • Upgraded power access along the entire basin
  • Redesigned sediment system to automate sediment recirculation and log sediment feed rates
  • Safety railing and platform for easy access to instrumentation measuring water flow through the OSL and viewing for visitors


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Khosronejad, A., J.L. Kozarek, P. Diplas, C. Hill, R. Jha, P. Chatanantavet, N. Heydari, and F. Sotiropoulos (2018) Simulation-based optimization of in-stream structures design: rock vanes. Environmental Fluid Mechanics, 18:695-738.

Tomasek, A.,  J.L. Kozarek, M. Hondzo, N. Lurndahl, M.J. Sadowsky, P. Wang, and C. Staley (2017) Environmental drivers of denitrification rates and denitrifying gene abundances in channels and riparian areas.  Water Resources Research 53:6523-6538.

Hill, C., J. Kozarek, F. Sotiropoulos, and M. Guala (2016) Hydrodynamics and sediment transport in a meandering channel with a model axial-flow hydrokinetic turbine. Water Resources Research, 52(2):860-879.

Palmsten, M.L., J.L. Kozarek, and J. Calantoni (2015). “Video observations of bed form morphodynamics in a meander bend.” Water Resources Research, 51, doi:10.1002/2014WR016321.

Kui, L., J. C. Stella, A. Lightbody, and A. C. Wilcox (2014). Ecogeomorphic feedbacks and flood loss of riparian tree seedlings in meandering channel experiments, Water Resour. Res., 50, 9366–9384, doi:10.1002/2014WR015719.

Khosronejad, A., Kozarek, J. L., Palmsten, M. L., and Sotiropoulos, F. (2015).  “Numerical simulation of large dunes in meandering streams and rivers with in-stream structures.”  Adv. in Wat. Resour., 81:45-61.

Khosronejad, A., Kozarek, J. L., and Sotiropoulos, F. (2014). “Simulation-based approach for stream restoration structure design: model development and validation,.” Journal of Hydraulic Engineering, 140(7): 1-16.

Plott, J.R., P. Diplas, J. Kozarek, C. L. Dancey, C. Hill, F. Sotiropoulos (2013). “A generalized log-law formulation for a wide range of boundary roughness typically encountered in natural streams.”  JGR Earth Surface. 118(3):1419-1431

Guentzel, K.S., M.J. Sadowsky, M. Hondzo, B.D. Badgley, J. C. Finlay, J.L. Kozarek (2014) Measurement and modeling of denitrification in sand-bed streams of varying land use.  Journal of Environmental Quality. 43(3): 1013-1023.

Legleiter, C. J., & B. T. Overstreet (2014). “Retrieving river attributes from remotely sensed data: An experimental evaluation based on field spectroscopy at the Outdoor Stream Lab.” River Research and Applications, 30(6):671-684.

Chapman, J., M. M. Blickenderfer, B. N. Wilson, J. S. Gulliver & S. Missaghi (2013). Competitions and Growth of Eight Shoreline Restoration Species in Changing Water Level Environments.” Ecological Restoration, 31(4) 359-367.

Kang, S., & F. Sotiropoulos  (2012). “Numerical modeling of 3D turbulent free surface flow in natural waterways.” Advances in Water Resources, 40, 23–36.

Kang, S., & F. Sotiropoulos (2012). “Assessing the predictive capabilities of isotropic, eddy viscosity Reynolds-averaged turbulence models in a natural-like meandering channel.” Water Resources Research, 48(6), W06505.

Nowinski, J. D., M. B. Cardenas, A. F. Lightbody, T. E. Swanson, & A. H. Sawyer (2012). “Hydraulic and thermal response of groundwater-surface water exchange to flooding in an experimental aquifer.” Journal of Hydrology, 472-473(2012), 184–192.

Kang, S., A. F. Lightbody, C. Hill & F. Sotiropoulos (2011). “High-resolution numerical simulation of turbulence in natural waterways.” Advances in Water Resources, 34, 98-113.

Kang, S. & F. Sotiropoulos (2011) Flow phenomena and mechanisms in a field-scale experimental meandering channel with a pool-riffle sequence: Insights gained via numerical simulation. Journal of Geophysical Research-Earth Surface, 116.

Nowinski, J. D., M. B. Cardenas & A. F. Lightbody (2011). “Evolution of hydraulic conductivity in the floodplain of a meandering river due to hyporheic transport of fine materials.” Geophysical Research Letters, 38.

Merten, E. C., W. D. Hintz, A. F. Lightbody & T. Wellnitz (2010). “Macroinvertebrate grazers, current velocity, and bedload transport rate influence periphytic accrual in a field-scale experimental stream.” Hydrobiologia, 652, 179-184.

Merten, E. C., J. Loomis, A. Lightbody & D. J. Dieterman (2010). “Effects of Six-Hour Suspended Sediment Treatments on White Sucker (Catostomus commersoni) and Smallmouth Bass (Micropterus dolomieu) in an Artificial Stream.” Journal of Freshwater Ecology, 25, 539-548.

Rominger, J. T., A. F. Lightbody & H. M. Nepf (2010). “Effects of Added Vegetation on Sand Bar Stability and Stream Hydrodynamics.” Journal of Hydraulic Engineering-ASCE, 136, 994-1002

Wilcock, P. R., Orr, C. H., and Marr, J. D. (2008). “The need for full-scale experiments in river science.” Eos, Transactions American Geophysical Union, 89(1), 6–6.