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I’ve just posted to the arXiv my paper “Finite time blowup for Lagrangian modifications of the three-dimensional Euler equation“. This paper is loosely in the spirit of other recent papers of mine in which I explore how close one can get to supercritical PDE of physical interest (such as the Euler and Navier-Stokes equations), while still being able to rigorously demonstrate finite time blowup for at least some choices of initial data. Here, the PDE we are trying to get close to is the incompressible inviscid Euler equations

in three spatial dimensions, where is the velocity vector field and is the pressure field. In vorticity form, and viewing the vorticity as a -form (rather than a vector), we can rewrite this system using the language of differential geometry as

where is the Lie derivative along , is the codifferential (the adjoint of the differential , or equivalently the negative of the divergence operator) that sends -vector fields to -vector fields, is the Hodge Laplacian, and is the identification of -vector fields with -forms induced by the Euclidean metric . The equation can be viewed as the Biot-Savart law recovering velocity from vorticity, expressed in the language of differential geometry.

One can then generalise this system by replacing the operator by a more general operator from -forms to -vector fields, giving rise to what I call the *generalised Euler equations*

For example, the surface quasi-geostrophic (SQG) equations can be written in this form, as discussed in this previous post. One can view (up to Hodge duality) as a vector potential for the velocity , so it is natural to refer to as a vector potential operator.

The generalised Euler equations carry much of the same geometric structure as the true Euler equations. For instance, the transport equation is equivalent to the Kelvin circulation theorem, which in three dimensions also implies the transport of vortex streamlines and the conservation of helicity. If is self-adjoint and positive definite, then the famous Euler-Poincaré interpretation of the true Euler equations as geodesic flow on an infinite dimensional Riemannian manifold of volume preserving diffeomorphisms (as discussed in this previous post) extends to the generalised Euler equations (with the operator determining the new Riemannian metric to place on this manifold). In particular, the generalised Euler equations have a Lagrangian formulation, and so by Noether’s theorem we expect any continuous symmetry of the Lagrangian to lead to conserved quantities. Indeed, we have a conserved Hamiltonian , and any spatial symmetry of leads to a conserved impulse (e.g. translation invariance leads to a conserved momentum, and rotation invariance leads to a conserved angular momentum). If behaves like a pseudodifferential operator of order (as is the case with the true vector potential operator ), then it turns out that one can use energy methods to recover the same sort of classical local existence theory as for the true Euler equations (up to and including the famous Beale-Kato-Majda criterion for blowup).

The true Euler equations are suspected of admitting smooth localised solutions which blow up in finite time; there is now substantial numerical evidence for this blowup, but it has not been proven rigorously. The main purpose of this paper is to show that such finite time blowup can at least be established for certain generalised Euler equations that are somewhat close to the true Euler equations. This is similar in spirit to my previous paper on finite time blowup on averaged Navier-Stokes equations, with the main new feature here being that the modified equation continues to have a Lagrangian structure and a vorticity formulation, which was not the case with the averaged Navier-Stokes equation. On the other hand, the arguments here are not able to handle the presence of viscosity (basically because they rely crucially on the Kelvin circulation theorem, which is not available in the viscous case).

In fact, three different blowup constructions are presented (for three different choices of vector potential operator ). The first is a variant of one discussed previously on this blog, in which a “neck pinch” singularity for a vortex tube is created by using a non-self-adjoint vector potential operator, in which the velocity at the neck of the vortex tube is determined by the circulation of the vorticity somewhat further away from that neck, which when combined with conservation of circulation is enough to guarantee finite time blowup. This is a relatively easy construction of finite time blowup, and has the advantage of being rather stable (any initial data flowing through a narrow tube with a large positive circulation will blow up in finite time). On the other hand, it is not so surprising in the non-self-adjoint case that finite blowup can occur, as there is no conserved energy.

The second blowup construction is based on a connection between the two-dimensional SQG equation and the three-dimensional generalised Euler equations, discussed in this previous post. Namely, any solution to the former can be lifted to a “two and a half-dimensional” solution to the latter, in which the velocity and vorticity are translation-invariant in the vertical direction (but the velocity is still allowed to contain vertical components, so the flow is not completely horizontal). The same embedding also works to lift solutions to generalised SQG equations in two dimensions to solutions to generalised Euler equations in three dimensions. Conveniently, even if the vector potential operator for the generalised SQG equation fails to be self-adjoint, one can ensure that the three-dimensional vector potential operator is self-adjoint. Using this trick, together with a two-dimensional version of the first blowup construction, one can then construct a generalised Euler equation in three dimensions with a vector potential that is both self-adjoint and positive definite, and still admits solutions that blow up in finite time, though now the blowup is now a vortex sheet creasing at on a line, rather than a vortex tube pinching at a point.

This eliminates the main defect of the first blowup construction, but introduces two others. Firstly, the blowup is less stable, as it relies crucially on the initial data being translation-invariant in the vertical direction. Secondly, the solution is not spatially localised in the vertical direction (though it can be viewed as a compactly supported solution on the manifold , rather than ). The third and final blowup construction of the paper addresses the final defect, by replacing vertical translation symmetry with axial rotation symmetry around the vertical axis (basically, replacing Cartesian coordinates with cylindrical coordinates). It turns out that there is a more complicated way to embed two-dimensional generalised SQG equations into three-dimensional generalised Euler equations in which the solutions to the latter are now axially symmetric (but are allowed to “swirl” in the sense that the velocity field can have a non-zero angular component), while still keeping the vector potential operator self-adjoint and positive definite; the blowup is now that of a vortex ring creasing on a circle.

As with the previous papers in this series, these blowup constructions do not *directly* imply finite time blowup for the true Euler equations, but they do at least provide a barrier to establishing global regularity for these latter equations, in that one is forced to use some property of the true Euler equations that are not shared by these generalisations. They also suggest some possible blowup mechanisms for the true Euler equations (although unfortunately these mechanisms do not seem compatible with the addition of viscosity, so they do not seem to suggest a viable Navier-Stokes blowup mechanism).

I’ve just uploaded to the arXiv my paper Finite time blowup for high dimensional nonlinear wave systems with bounded smooth nonlinearity, submitted to Comm. PDE. This paper is in the same spirit as (though not directly related to) my previous paper on finite time blowup of supercritical NLW systems, and was inspired by a question posed to me some time ago by Jeffrey Rauch. Here, instead of looking at supercritical equations, we look at an extremely subcritical equation, namely a system of the form

where is the unknown field, and is the nonlinearity, which we assume to have all derivatives bounded. A typical example of such an equation is the higher-dimensional sine-Gordon equation

for a scalar field . Here is the d’Alembertian operator. We restrict attention here to classical (i.e. smooth) solutions to (1).

We do not assume any Hamiltonian structure, so we do not require to be a gradient of a potential . But even without such Hamiltonian structure, the equation (1) is very well behaved, with many *a priori* bounds available. For instance, if the initial position and initial velocity are smooth and compactly supported, then from finite speed of propagation has uniformly bounded compact support for all in a bounded interval. As the nonlinearity is bounded, this immediately places in in any bounded time interval, which by the energy inequality gives an a priori bound on in this time interval. Next, from the chain rule we have

which (from the assumption that is bounded) shows that is in , which by the energy inequality again now gives an a priori bound on .

One might expect that one could keep iterating this and obtain *a priori* bounds on in arbitrarily smooth norms. In low dimensions such as , this is a fairly easy task, since the above estimates and Sobolev embedding already place one in , and the nonlinear map is easily verified to preserve the space for any natural number , from which one obtains a priori bounds in any Sobolev space; from this and standard energy methods, one can then establish global regularity for this equation (that is to say, any smooth choice of initial data generates a global smooth solution). However, one starts running into trouble in higher dimensions, in which no bound is available. The main problem is that even a really nice nonlinearity such as is unbounded in higher Sobolev norms. The estimates

and

ensure that the map is bounded in low regularity spaces like or , but one already runs into trouble with the second derivative

where there is a troublesome lower order term of size which becomes difficult to control in higher dimensions, preventing the map to be bounded in . Ultimately, the issue here is that when is not controlled in , the function can oscillate at a much higher frequency than ; for instance, if is the one-dimensional wave for some and , then oscillates at frequency , but the function more or less oscillates at the larger frequency .

In medium dimensions, it is possible to use dispersive estimates for the wave equation (such as the famous Strichartz estimates) to overcome these problems. This line of inquiry was pursued (albeit for slightly different classes of nonlinearity than those considered here) by Heinz-von Wahl, Pecher (in a series of papers), Brenner, and Brenner-von Wahl; to cut a long story short, one of the conclusions of these papers was that one had global regularity for equations such as (1) in dimensions . (I reprove this result using modern Strichartz estimate and Littlewood-Paley techniques in an appendix to my paper. The references given also allow for some growth in the nonlinearity , but we will not detail the precise hypotheses used in these papers here.)

In my paper, I complement these positive results with an almost matching negative result:

Theorem 1If and , then there exists a nonlinearity with all derivatives bounded, and a solution to (1) that is smooth at time zero, but develops a singularity in finite time.

The construction crucially relies on the ability to choose the nonlinearity , and also needs some injectivity properties on the solution (after making a symmetry reduction using an assumption of spherical symmetry to view as a function of variables rather than ) which restricts our counterexample to the case. Thus the model case of the higher-dimensional sine-Gordon equation is not covered by our arguments. Nevertheless (as with previous finite-time blowup results discussed on this blog), one can view this result as a *barrier* to trying to prove regularity for equations such as in eleven and higher dimensions, as any such argument must somehow use a property of that equation that is not applicable to the more general system (1).

Let us first give some back-of-the-envelope calculations suggesting why there could be finite time blowup in eleven and higher dimensions. For sake of this discussion let us restrict attention to the sine-Gordon equation . The blowup ansatz we will use is as follows: for each frequency in a sequence of large quantities going to infinity, there will be a spacetime “cube” on which the solution oscillates with “amplitude” and “frequency” , where is an exponent to be chosen later; this ansatz is of course compatible with the uncertainty principle. Since as , this will create a singularity at the spacetime origin . To make this ansatz plausible, we wish to make the oscillation of on driven primarily by the forcing term at . Thus, by Duhamel’s formula, we expect a relation roughly of the form

on , where is the usual free wave propagator, and is the indicator function of .

On , oscillates with amplitude and frequency , we expect the derivative to be of size about , and so from the principle of stationary phase we expect to oscillate at frequency about . Since the wave propagator preserves frequencies, and is supposed to be of frequency on we are thus led to the requirement

Next, when restricted to frequencies of order , the propagator “behaves like” , where is the spherical averaging operator

where is surface measure on the unit sphere , and is the volume of that sphere. In our setting, is comparable to , and so we have the informal approximation

on .

Since is bounded, is bounded as well. This gives a (non-rigorous) upper bound

which when combined with our ansatz that has ampitude about on , gives the constraint

which on applying (2) gives the further constraint

which can be rearranged as

It is now clear that the optimal choice of is

and this blowup ansatz is only self-consistent when

or equivalently if .

To turn this ansatz into an actual blowup example, we will construct as the sum of various functions that solve the wave equation with forcing term in , and which concentrate in with the amplitude and frequency indicated by the above heuristic analysis. The remaining task is to show that can be written in the form for some with all derivatives bounded. For this one needs some injectivity properties of (after imposing spherical symmetry to impose a dimensional reduction on the domain of from dimensions to ). This requires one to construct some solutions to the free wave equation that have some unusual restrictions on the range (for instance, we will need a solution taking values in the plane that avoid one quadrant of that plane). In order to do this we take advantage of the very explicit nature of the fundamental solution to the wave equation in odd dimensions (such as ), particularly under the assumption of spherical symmetry. Specifically, one can show that in odd dimension , any spherically symmetric function of the form

for an arbitrary smooth function , will solve the free wave equation; this is ultimately due to iterating the “ladder operator” identity

This precise and relatively simple formula for allows one to create “bespoke” solutions that obey various unusual properties, without too much difficulty.

It is not clear to me what to conjecture for . The blowup ansatz given above is a little inefficient, in that the frequency component of the solution is only generated from a portion of the component, namely the portion close to a certain light cone. In particular, the solution does not saturate the Strichartz estimates that are used to establish the positive results for , which helps explain the slight gap between the positive and negative results. It may be that a more complicated ansatz could work to give a negative result in ten dimensions; conversely, it is also possible that one could use more advanced estimates than the Strichartz estimate (that somehow capture the “thinness” of the fundamental solution, and not just its dispersive properties) to stretch the positive results to ten dimensions. Which side the case falls in all come down to some rather delicate numerology.

…

I’ve just uploaded to the arXiv the paper “Finite time blowup for an averaged three-dimensional Navier-Stokes equation“, submitted to J. Amer. Math. Soc.. The main purpose of this paper is to formalise the “supercriticality barrier” for the global regularity problem for the Navier-Stokes equation, which roughly speaking asserts that it is not possible to establish global regularity by any “abstract” approach which only uses upper bound function space estimates on the nonlinear part of the equation, combined with the energy identity. This is done by constructing a modification of the Navier-Stokes equations with a nonlinearity that obeys essentially all of the function space estimates that the true Navier-Stokes nonlinearity does, and which also obeys the energy identity, but for which one can construct solutions that blow up in finite time. Results of this type had been previously established by Montgomery-Smith, Gallagher-Paicu, and Li-Sinai for variants of the Navier-Stokes equation without the energy identity, and by Katz-Pavlovic and by Cheskidov for dyadic analogues of the Navier-Stokes equations in five and higher dimensions that obeyed the energy identity (see also the work of Plechac and Sverak and of Hou and Lei that also suggest blowup for other Navier-Stokes type models obeying the energy identity in five and higher dimensions), but to my knowledge this is the first blowup result for a Navier-Stokes type equation in three dimensions that also obeys the energy identity. Intriguingly, the method of proof in fact hints at a possible route to establishing blowup for the true Navier-Stokes equations, which I am now increasingly inclined to believe is the case (albeit for a very small set of initial data).

To state the results more precisely, recall that the Navier-Stokes equations can be written in the form

for a divergence-free velocity field and a pressure field , where is the viscosity, which we will normalise to be one. We will work in the non-periodic setting, so the spatial domain is , and for sake of exposition I will not discuss matters of regularity or decay of the solution (but we will always be working with strong notions of solution here rather than weak ones). Applying the Leray projection to divergence-free vector fields to this equation, we can eliminate the pressure, and obtain an evolution equation

purely for the velocity field, where is a certain bilinear operator on divergence-free vector fields (specifically, . The global regularity problem for Navier-Stokes is then equivalent to the global regularity problem for the evolution equation (1).

An important feature of the bilinear operator appearing in (1) is the cancellation law

(using the inner product on divergence-free vector fields), which leads in particular to the fundamental energy identity

This identity (and its consequences) provide essentially the only known *a priori* bound on solutions to the Navier-Stokes equations from large data and arbitrary times. Unfortunately, as discussed in this previous post, the quantities controlled by the energy identity are supercritical with respect to scaling, which is the fundamental obstacle that has defeated all attempts to solve the global regularity problem for Navier-Stokes without any additional assumptions on the data or solution (e.g. perturbative hypotheses, or *a priori* control on a critical norm such as the norm).

Our main result is then (slightly informally stated) as follows

Theorem 1There exists anaveragedversion of the bilinear operator , of the formfor some probability space , some spatial rotation operators for , and some Fourier multipliers of order , for which one still has the cancellation law

and for which the averaged Navier-Stokes equation

(There are some integrability conditions on the Fourier multipliers required in the above theorem in order for the conclusion to be non-trivial, but I am omitting them here for sake of exposition.)

Because spatial rotations and Fourier multipliers of order are bounded on most function spaces, automatically obeys almost all of the upper bound estimates that does. Thus, this theorem blocks any attempt to prove global regularity for the true Navier-Stokes equations which relies purely on the energy identity and on upper bound estimates for the nonlinearity; one must use some additional structure of the nonlinear operator which is not shared by an averaged version . Such additional structure certainly exists – for instance, the Navier-Stokes equation has a vorticity formulation involving only differential operators rather than pseudodifferential ones, whereas a general equation of the form (2) does not. However, “abstract” approaches to global regularity generally do not exploit such structure, and thus cannot be used to affirmatively answer the Navier-Stokes problem.

It turns out that the particular averaged bilinear operator that we will use will be a finite linear combination of *local cascade operators*, which take the form

where is a small parameter, are Schwartz vector fields whose Fourier transform is supported on an annulus, and is an -rescaled version of (basically a “wavelet” of wavelength about centred at the origin). Such operators were essentially introduced by Katz and Pavlovic as dyadic models for ; they have the essentially the same scaling property as (except that one can only scale along powers of , rather than over all positive reals), and in fact they can be expressed as an average of in the sense of the above theorem, as can be shown after a somewhat tedious amount of Fourier-analytic symbol manipulations.

If we consider nonlinearities which are a finite linear combination of local cascade operators, then the equation (2) more or less collapses to a system of ODE in certain “wavelet coefficients” of . The precise ODE that shows up depends on what precise combination of local cascade operators one is using. Katz and Pavlovic essentially considered a single cascade operator together with its “adjoint” (needed to preserve the energy identity), and arrived (more or less) at the system of ODE

where are scalar fields for each integer . (Actually, Katz-Pavlovic worked with a technical variant of this particular equation, but the differences are not so important for this current discussion.) Note that the quadratic terms on the RHS carry a higher exponent of than the dissipation term; this reflects the supercritical nature of this evolution (the energy is monotone decreasing in this flow, so the natural size of given the control on the energy is ). There is a slight technical issue with the dissipation if one wishes to embed (3) into an equation of the form (2), but it is minor and I will not discuss it further here.

In principle, if the mode has size comparable to at some time , then energy should flow from to at a rate comparable to , so that by time or so, most of the energy of should have drained into the mode (with hardly any energy dissipated). Since the series is summable, this suggests finite time blowup for this ODE as the energy races ever more quickly to higher and higher modes. Such a scenario was indeed established by Katz and Pavlovic (and refined by Cheskidov) if the dissipation strength was weakened somewhat (the exponent has to be lowered to be less than ). As mentioned above, this is enough to give a version of Theorem 1 in five and higher dimensions.

On the other hand, it was shown a few years ago by Barbato, Morandin, and Romito that (3) in fact admits global smooth solutions (at least in the dyadic case , and assuming non-negative initial data). Roughly speaking, the problem is that as energy is being transferred from to , energy is also simultaneously being transferred from to , and as such the solution races off to higher modes a bit too prematurely, without absorbing all of the energy from lower modes. This weakens the strength of the blowup to the point where the moderately strong dissipation in (3) is enough to kill the high frequency cascade before a true singularity occurs. Because of this, the original Katz-Pavlovic model cannot quite be used to establish Theorem 1 in three dimensions. (Actually, the original Katz-Pavlovic model had some additional dispersive features which allowed for another proof of global smooth solutions, which is an unpublished result of Nazarov.)

To get around this, I had to “engineer” an ODE system with similar features to (3) (namely, a quadratic nonlinearity, a monotone total energy, and the indicated exponents of for both the dissipation term and the quadratic terms), but for which the cascade of energy from scale to scale was not interrupted by the cascade of energy from scale to scale . To do this, I needed to insert a *delay* in the cascade process (so that after energy was dumped into scale , it would take some time before the energy would start to transfer to scale ), but the process also needed to be *abrupt* (once the process of energy transfer started, it needed to conclude very quickly, before the delayed transfer for the next scale kicked in). It turned out that one could build a “quadratic circuit” out of some basic “quadratic gates” (analogous to how an electrical circuit could be built out of basic gates such as amplifiers or resistors) that achieved this task, leading to an ODE system essentially of the form

where is a suitable large parameter and is a suitable small parameter (much smaller than ). To visualise the dynamics of such a system, I found it useful to describe this system graphically by a “circuit diagram” that is analogous (but not identical) to the circuit diagrams arising in electrical engineering:

The coupling constants here range widely from being very large to very small; in practice, this makes the and modes absorb very little energy, but exert a sizeable influence on the remaining modes. If a lot of energy is suddenly dumped into , what happens next is roughly as follows: for a moderate period of time, nothing much happens other than a trickle of energy into , which in turn causes a rapid exponential growth of (from a very low base). After this delay, suddenly crosses a certain threshold, at which point it causes and to exchange energy back and forth with extreme speed. The energy from then rapidly drains into , and the process begins again (with a slight loss in energy due to the dissipation). If one plots the total energy as a function of time, it looks schematically like this:

As in the previous heuristic discussion, the time between cascades from one frequency scale to the next decay exponentially, leading to blowup at some finite time . (One could describe the dynamics here as being similar to the famous “lighting the beacons” scene in the Lord of the Rings movies, except that (a) as each beacon gets ignited, the previous one is extinguished, as per the energy identity; (b) the time between beacon lightings decrease exponentially; and (c) there is no soundtrack.)

There is a real (but remote) possibility that this sort of construction can be adapted to the true Navier-Stokes equations. The basic blowup mechanism in the averaged equation is that of a von Neumann machine, or more precisely a construct (built within the laws of the inviscid evolution ) that, after some time delay, manages to suddenly create a replica of itself at a finer scale (and to largely erase its original instantiation in the process). In principle, such a von Neumann machine could also be built out of the laws of the inviscid form of the Navier-Stokes equations (i.e. the Euler equations). In physical terms, one would have to build the machine purely out of an ideal fluid (i.e. an inviscid incompressible fluid). If one could somehow create enough “logic gates” out of ideal fluid, one could presumably build a sort of “fluid computer”, at which point the task of building a von Neumann machine appears to reduce to a software engineering exercise rather than a PDE problem (providing that the gates are suitably stable with respect to perturbations, but (as with actual computers) this can presumably be done by converting the analog signals of fluid mechanics into a more error-resistant digital form). The key thing missing in this program (in both senses of the word) to establish blowup for Navier-Stokes is to construct the logic gates within the laws of ideal fluids. (Compare with the situation for cellular automata such as Conway’s “Game of Life“, in which Turing complete computers, universal constructors, and replicators have all been built within the laws of that game.)

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