• Thu
  • Aug 28, 2014
  • Updated: 9:38pm

Beijing air pollution

The Chinese capital has for many years suffered from serious air pollution. Primary sources of pollutants include exhaust emission from Beijing's more than five million motor vehicles, coal burning in neighbouring regions, dust storms from the north and local construction dust. A particularly severe smog engulfed the city for weeks in early 2013, elevating public awareness to unprecedented levels and prompting the government to roll out emergency measures. 


Big Brother blinded: Security fears in China as smog disrupts surveillance cameras

Teams of scientists assigned to find a solution as heavy pollution makes national surveillance network useless, raising fear of terror attack

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 November, 2013, 2:36am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 November, 2013, 10:47am

To the central government, the smog that blankets the country is not just a health hazard, it's a threat to national security.

Last month visibility in Harbin dropped to below three metres because of heavy smog. On days like these, no surveillance camera can see through the thick layers of particles, say scientists and engineers.

To the authorities, this is a serious national security concern. Beijing has invested heavily to build up a nationwide surveillance network that lets police watch every major street and corner in main cities.

But with smoggy days becoming more frequent, the effectiveness of the system has been greatly compromised. Some fear terrorists may choose a smoggy day to launch attacks.

Kong Zilong, a senior project engineer with Shenzhen Yichengan Technology and an expert in video surveillance technology, said the security devices that could function in heavy smogs had yet to be invented.

Existing technology, such as infrared imaging, can help cameras see through fog or smoke at a certain level, but the smog on the mainland these days is a different story. The particles are so many and so solid, they block light almost as effectively as a brick wall.

"According to our experience, as the visibility drops below three metres, even the best camera cannot see beyond a dozen metres," he said.

His company sells products from some of the world's leading security camera makers, such as Raymax from Japan, Bewator from Britain, FLIR from the United States and VisSim from Norway.

The government has come to realise the seriousness of the issue and commissioned scientists to come up with a solution.

The National Natural Science Foundation of China funded two teams, one civilian and one military, to study the issue and has told the scientists involved to find solutions within four years.

Professor Yang Aiping, an expert in digital imaging with the School of Electronic Information Engineering of Tianjin University and leader of the civilian team, said she was facing tremendous pressure because of the enormous technological challenges.

"Most studies in other countries are to do with fog. In China, most people think that fog and smog can be dealt by the same method. Our preliminary research shows that the smog particles are quite different from the small water droplets of fog in terms of optical properties," she said.

"We need to heavily revise, if not completely rewrite, algorithms in some mathematical models. We also need to do lots of computer simulation and extensive field tests."

The military team is led by professor Bi Duyan of the Air Force Engineering University of the People's Liberation Army in Xian , Shaanxi province. Bi could not be reached for comment on the research.

Professor Zhang Li, an image processing expert with the department of electronic engineering of Tsinghua University, said the researchers might have to think out of the box.

"On the smoggiest days, we may need to use radar to ensure security in some sensitive areas," he said.

Microwaves or electromagnetic waves could travel through smog easily and bounce back if they hit an object. With the help of good software, sharp and clear images could be produced. But a radar camera would also generate radiation that harms people's health.

"It has to be a contingency device," Zhang said.


Related topics

More on this story

For unlimited access to:

SCMP.com SCMP Tablet Edition SCMP Mobile Edition 10-year news archive



This article is now closed to comments

my gf's aunt just got an awesome 6 month old Volkswagen Touareg by working parttime off of a pc. Read Full Report ****www.jobs64.com
So people can worry about getting barraged with micro waves as well...
like Norma responded I'm surprised that some people can make $8400 in 4 weeks on the internet. check my blog>>. WWW.FB39.COM
Ah yes, terrorism. That's the problem. More like the CCP realises it is harder to keep the boot on the throat if they can't see what they are doing.
Of course it is not just China. In the UK, where I'm from, civil liberties are being constantly eroded in order to protect people from the Evil Threat of Terrorism. The UK has between 4 and 6 million CCTV cameras, and I'm not sure what is scariest, the number or that no-one is sure how many there are.
The air isn't great in Hong Kong, but from those pictures, there is no way that expats actually LOVE China more than Hong Kong or Singapore, they LOVE money, that's a different thing.
In the process of earning that money they probably shorten their lifespan by about 10 years.
Must be a slow news day.
This is a bizarre article. It tows the unquestioned line that because smog stops the government monitoring the population in every nook and cranny of public space there is a national crisis. Otherwise, 'terrorists' will strike. Does the SCMP really swallow this line? Reading the text, it seems it does. No questioning whether this is the hysterical thinking of a paranoid police state. No questioning whether the government's obsessive monitoring is really designed to stamp out dissent among the general population. No questioning even whether the State's apparent prioritisation of spying over irradiating its citizens could be justifiable. Has the SCMP become a mouthpiece for Beijing's dictatorial tendencies?
Sean Cauffiel
"Our preliminary research shows that the smog particles are quite different from the small water droplets of fog in terms of optical properties," she said."
Wow, mainland Chinese are just all kinds of brilliant!
I watched the CCTV and learned that the Chinese Government is working on reducing the industrial pollution in the country. It is a long term commitment and takes time to accomplish it.
On the other hand, I think the smog will become an inspiration for the Chinese military to develop an advanced military weapon that can effectively fight against an enemy even in a heavy smog condition. Not bad !
An old Chinese idiom : 塞翁失馬,焉知非福 !
"I watched the CCTV" - That's your first mistake.
"and learned" Anything you got from CCTV is likely to be lies, so you can't say you "learned"anything.
"that the Chinese Government is working on reducing the industrial pollution" Seem to be doing a great job! Chinese flue gas desulfurization program was begun not last month but in 2002! How is that working out?
As for the Chinese idiom the point is that good things can emerge from overcoming adversity. By the time China overcomes their pollution problem they'll be dead.




SCMP.com Account