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The South China Academy of Advanced Optoelectronics of South China Normal University teamed up with the Institute of the Mausoleum of Emperor Qin to conduct measurements of the atmospheric content of atomic mercury above the tomb mound performed with a mobile differential absorption LiDAR (light detection and ranging) system. Their findings were published in Scientific Reports entitled "Mercury as a Geophysical Tracer Gas - Emissions from the Emperor Qin Tomb in Xi´an Studied by Laser Radar".

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Differential absorption LiDAR mapping of atmospheric mercury concentrations around the mausoleum of the first Qin emperor was performed for the first time. The research team, led by Professor Sune Svanberg from SCNU, used a mobile differential absorption LiDAR system constructed by the South China Normal University Applied Laser Spectroscopy Group to measure concentrations of atomic mercury at three different locations around the mound. After three weeks of measurements, elevated concentrations of mercury were noted around the mausoleum mound, which may be caused by mercury "escaping through cracks which may have developed in the structure over time", according to the report. 

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The study proves the potential archaeological application of the mobile differential absorption LiDAR system, and has bearings on the proposed use of mercury as a tracer gas for valuable ores and geothermal resource exploration, bringing problems around reliable nuclear waste long-term underground storage to mind.

The research was funded by the Guangdong Provincial Key Laboratory of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the Guangdong Provincial Key Laboratory, and Lund University, Sweden.

In recent years, the team of Professor Sune Svanberg has been committed to the research and application of laser spectroscopy and LiDAR technology, and has made important progress in biological non-invasive detection technology, differential absorption LiDAR technology and new miniaturized LiDAR applications, providing new technologies and insights into environmental pollution monitoring.

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