Abstract The physicochemical processes that affect acid mine drainage (AMD) in unsaturated waste rock piles and the capabilities of small-scale laboratory experiments to predict AMD from waste rock are not well understood. An integrated laboratory and field study to measure and compare low sulfide waste rock and drainage characteristics at various scales has been initiated. This paper describes the design, construction and instrumentation of three field-scale experimental waste rock piles (test piles), and six active zone lysimeters at the Diavik diamond mine in the Northwest Territories, Canada. The test piles are comprised of granitic and sulfide-bearing metasedimentary waste rock excavated during open pit mining operations. One test pile contains waste rock with a target S content of <0.04wt.% S; the second test pile contains waste rock with a target S content of >0.08wt.% S; and the third test pile contains the higher sulfide waste rock (>0.08wt.% S) and was re-sloped and capped with a low permeability till layer and a low sulfide waste rock cover. The first two test piles are approximately 15m high with bases of 50m by 60m, and the re-sloped test pile has a larger base of 80m by 125m. Instrumentation was selected to measure matrix flow, geochemistry of pore water and drainage, gas-phase O2 concentration, temperature evolution, microbiological populations, waste rock permeability to air, and thermal conductivity, as well as to resolve mass and flow balances. Instrument locations were selected to characterize coupled physicochemical processes at multiple scales and the evolution of those processes over time. Instruments were installed at a density such that the number of instruments that survived construction (40% to >80% by instrument type) was sufficient to allow adequate characterization of the physicochemical processes occurring at various scales in the test piles.