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We describe a procedure by which a long (≳1 km) optical path through atmospheric turbulence can be experimentally simulated in a controlled fashion and scaled down to distances easily accessible in a laboratory setting. This procedure is then used to simulate a 1 km long free-space communication link in which information is encoded in orbital angular momentum spatial modes. We also demonstrate that standard adaptive optics methods can be used to mitigate many of the effects of thick atmospheric turbulence. © 2014 IOP Publishing Ltd and Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft.

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New Journal of Physics