The 2008 Olympics are serving as a testing ground for a new technology that may improve aviation safety in China.
A team of researchers at the Ocean University of China has developed and tested a portable Doppler lidar (light detection and ranging) station that can accurately measure real-time wind speed and direction over large areas.
Traditional Doppler radar can provide accurate wind information on cloudy or rainy days. But on clear days, forecasters rely more on data from ocean buoys and land stations. Doppler lidar, on the other hand, works by scattering laser beams off atmospheric molecules. When the molecules move in the wind, the scattered laser light changes frequency.
Researchers say Doppler lidar can quickly sample a large area, providing a much finer map than wind cups and ultrasonic anemometers. The technology is being tested in conjunction with the Olympic sailing competitions.
The technology was also tested at the 2007 Qingdao International Regatta. The research team had put their equipment on a bus and pulled up along the seashore. They made a horizontal scan over the sea surface, then uploaded the data to a local weather station every 10 minutes. The technology could lead to the development of permanent lidar facilities.