Ecotron Hasselt University


Enclosed Ecosystem Platform

Parent institution: Hasselt University
Active since 2016
Active through all year

Co-located with

  • ICOS
  • LTER

Fields of study

  • Climatology, Climate Change
  • Environmental sciences, Pollution
  • Soil science
  • Mapping, GIS
  • Microbiology
  • Terrestrial biology, Ecology
  • Environmental economics
  • Law

Contact Information

Rineau, Francois

The ecotron facility is an infrastructure where 12 4.5m3 macrocosms can be separately exposed to various environmental conditions, while their response is being monitored. The platform has been operational since early 2018, then entered a testing phase until end of 2019, and experiments started early 2020.

The Location

Country: Belgium

Latitude: 51.00190278

Longitude: 5.701317

Nearest town: Maasmechelen

Distance from neaerst town: 0 km

Relevant Research Questions

The Ecotron Hasselt University project aims at studying the effects of climate change on ecosystem services, in an interdisciplinary manner. We built a consortium of climatologists, plant ecologists, soil ecologists, modellers, soil biogeochemists, and economists to tackle these questions.


The Ecotron Hasselt University facility has five main assets:

  1. high accuracy in climate control; 
  2. high level of control of soil variables (reproducing the vertical gradients of soil temperature and water tension);
  3. high degree of soil monitoring (soil suction cups and sensors for water content, soil water tension, soil electrical conductivity, and soil temperature, are all installed at 10, 20, 35, 60, and 140cm deep, and at three different positions per depth, all of these variables measured at a 10-min interval);
  4. The ecotrons are linked with an ICOS ecosystem tower, which provides it with real-time data on local weather and soil conditions;
  5. interdisciplinary expertise (for example, working in collaboration with climatologists and environmental economists).


The infrastructures limitations are fourfold: 

  1. it cannot accommodate plants that are taller than 2 meters; 
  2. the rain simulator has low accuracy for simulating mist;
  3. only half of the units are equipped with phenocams, which are very simple;
  4. light cannot be controlled.

Points ii) to iv) could be partially solved by ii) upgrading the valve and nozzle system (ongoing); iii) install phenocams measuring NDVI in all 12 units; iv) install shadings that can automatically be deployed over the domes to lessen incoming radiation and powerful LED systems to simulate increased incoming radiation.

Experimental Capabilities

Experimental Facilities

Uhasselt growth chambers could be available.

During a long term experiment, short term experiments could take place simultaneously (provided these experiments use the same controlled environmental conditions). Eventually another experiment can be planned in the facility outside of the already funded experiment (6 units from 2020 to 2023, 12 units from 2024).

Experiments duration: Weeks, Months, Years, Decades;

Experimental Aerea

Total area: 38 m²

Every lysimeter has a surface area of 3.14 m2 and depth of 1.5m

Available area: 38 m²

The Ecotron Hasselt University facility is now occupied by heathland ecosystem, but we can consider to open in in part to other ecosystems in the mid-term. Meanwhile any experiment that would not disturb the actual setup is highly welcomed (e.g. advanced measurements in soil biochemistry). Right now climate is manipulated by jointly simulating all covarying parameters (according to local projections of RCP 8.5 scenario at 1 past, 1 ambient and 4 future timepoints), representing increasingly intense climate change. It will be used to measure the response of 6 heathland macrocosms to the aforementioned 6 climate change projections, on the one hand; and the response of barley growing on marginal soil under 2070 climate to silicon amendments, on the other hand.

Experimental Unit Size

unit size: 3 m²

the lysimeters itself are 3,14 m2, but the entire surface under each dome is about 18-19m2. And this for 12 domes. The highest point of each dome is approximately 3m.


Replicates number: 12

Temporary storage

  • Freeze drier
  • Freezer
  • Drying oven
  • Liquid N
  • Refrigerator

Available Instruments

  • pH
  • conductivity
  • Temperature

Electricity available on site.

Distance from Laboratory facilities


Years measured:


Mean Temperature: 10 °C

February Mean Temperature: 3 °C

July Mean Temperature: 18 °C


Mean Annual Speed: 3.7 m/s

Max. Annual Speed: m/s

Dominant Direction: North-West


Precipitation type: Rain, Snow;

Total annual precipitation: 852 mm

Mean snow cover duration: days

State Variables

Continuously Measured

  • Air humidity
  • Air temperature
  • Atmospheric pressure
  • Incident PAR
  • Soil temperature
  • Soil water content
  • Soil electrical conductivity
  • Soil water tension
  • Soil CO2
  • Atmospheric CO2
  • Atmospheric N2O
  • Atmospheric CH4

Spot Measured

  • Species richness

Environmental Pressures

No manipulable evironmental variables.

On site Staff and Accomodation

Peak season staff

Up to 5 people

Off season staff

Up to 1 people

Visiting personnel

Up to 20 visitors

No beds on site

Showers on site

Showers on site

No laundry on site