The outdoors is a horribly inconsistent place to do science. That’s why many ecologists work in laboratories, where they can exactly replicate an experiment many times over, although with the understanding that their results may not fully reflect what would happen in nature. But on Lake Stechlin in Germany, researchers at the Leibniz Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries have created a wild environment that they can manipulate as they please in order to run controlled tests. LakeLab is a group of enclosures that delineate 24 miniature lakes. Called “mesocosms,” the plastic cylinders are 30 feet across and 66 feet deep—they reach all the way to the bottom and hold not just water, but algae, plants, and everything else. Scientists are now tweaking the temperature distribution of 12 of the lakes to study the effects of climate change on the freshwater ecosystem.
_This article originally appeared in the November 2013 issue of _Popular Science.