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These lecture notes are a continuation of the 254A lecture notes from the previous quarter.

We consider the Euler equations for incompressible fluid flow on a Euclidean space ; we will label as the “Eulerian space” (or “Euclidean space”, or “physical space”) to distinguish it from the “Lagrangian space” (or “labels space”) that we will introduce shortly (but the reader is free to also ignore the or subscripts if he or she wishes). Elements of Eulerian space will be referred to by symbols such as , we use to denote Lebesgue measure on and we will use for the coordinates of , and use indices such as to index these coordinates (with the usual summation conventions), for instance denotes partial differentiation along the coordinate. (We use superscripts for coordinates instead of subscripts to be compatible with some differential geometry notation that we will use shortly; in particular, when using the summation notation, we will now be matching subscripts with superscripts for the pair of indices being summed.)

In Eulerian coordinates, the Euler equations read

where is the velocity field and is the pressure field. These are functions of time and on the spatial location variable . We will refer to the coordinates as Eulerian coordinates. However, if one reviews the physical derivation of the Euler equations from 254A Notes 0, before one takes the continuum limit, the fundamental unknowns were not the velocity field or the pressure field , but rather the trajectories , which can be thought of as a single function from the coordinates (where is a time and is an element of the label set ) to . The relationship between the trajectories and the velocity field was given by the informal relationship

We will refer to the coordinates as (discrete) *Lagrangian coordinates* for describing the fluid.

In view of this, it is natural to ask whether there is an alternate way to formulate the continuum limit of incompressible inviscid fluids, by using a continuous version of the Lagrangian coordinates, rather than Eulerian coordinates. This is indeed the case. Suppose for instance one has a smooth solution to the Euler equations on a spacetime slab in Eulerian coordinates; assume furthermore that the velocity field is uniformly bounded. We introduce another copy of , which we call *Lagrangian space* or *labels space*; we use symbols such as to refer to elements of this space, to denote Lebesgue measure on , and to refer to the coordinates of . We use indices such as to index these coordinates, thus for instance denotes partial differentiation along the coordinate. We will use summation conventions for both the Eulerian coordinates and the Lagrangian coordinates , with an index being summed if it appears as both a subscript and a superscript in the same term. While and are of course isomorphic, we will try to refrain from identifying them, except perhaps at the initial time in order to fix the initialisation of Lagrangian coordinates.

Given a smooth and bounded velocity field , define a *trajectory map* for this velocity to be any smooth map that obeys the ODE

in view of (2), this describes the trajectory (in ) of a particle labeled by an element of . From the Picard existence theorem and the hypothesis that is smooth and bounded, such a map exists and is unique as long as one specifies the initial location assigned to each label . Traditionally, one chooses the initial condition

for , so that we label each particle by its initial location at time ; we are also free to specify other initial conditions for the trajectory map if we please. Indeed, we have the freedom to “permute” the labels by an arbitrary diffeomorphism: if is a trajectory map, and is any diffeomorphism (a smooth map whose inverse exists and is also smooth), then the map is also a trajectory map, albeit one with different initial conditions .

Despite the popularity of the initial condition (4), we will try to keep conceptually separate the Eulerian space from the Lagrangian space , as they play different physical roles in the interpretation of the fluid; for instance, while the Euclidean metric is an important feature of Eulerian space , it is not a geometrically natural structure to use in Lagrangian space . We have the following more general version of Exercise 8 from 254A Notes 2:

Exercise 1Let be smooth and bounded.

- If is a smooth map, show that there exists a unique smooth trajectory map with initial condition for all .
- Show that if is a diffeomorphism and , then the map is also a diffeomorphism.

Remark 2The first of the Euler equations (1) can now be written in the formwhich can be viewed as a continuous limit of Newton’s first law .

Call a diffeomorphism *(oriented) volume preserving* if one has the equation

for all , where the total differential is the matrix with entries for and , where are the components of . (If one wishes, one can also view as a linear transformation from the tangent space of Lagrangian space at to the tangent space of Eulerian space at .) Equivalently, is orientation preserving and one has a Jacobian-free change of variables formula

for all , which is in turn equivalent to having the same Lebesgue measure as for any measurable set .

The divergence-free condition then can be nicely expressed in terms of volume-preserving properties of the trajectory maps , in a manner which confirms the interpretation of this condition as an incompressibility condition on the fluid:

Lemma 3Let be smooth and bounded, let be a volume-preserving diffeomorphism, and let be the trajectory map. Then the following are equivalent:

- on .
- is volume-preserving for all .

*Proof:* Since is orientation-preserving, we see from continuity that is also orientation-preserving. Suppose that is also volume-preserving, then for any we have the conservation law

for all . Differentiating in time using the chain rule and (3) we conclude that

for all , and hence by change of variables

which by integration by parts gives

for all and , so is divergence-free.

To prove the converse implication, it is convenient to introduce the *labels map* , defined by setting to be the inverse of the diffeomorphism , thus

for all . By the implicit function theorem, is smooth, and by differentiating the above equation in time using (3) we see that

where is the usual material derivative

acting on functions on . If is divergence-free, we have from integration by parts that

for any test function . In particular, for any , we can calculate

and hence

for any . Since is volume-preserving, so is , thus

Thus is volume-preserving, and hence is also.

Exercise 4Let be a continuously differentiable map from the time interval to the general linear group of invertible matrices. Establish Jacobi’s formulaand use this and (6) to give an alternate proof of Lemma 3 that does not involve any integration.

Remark 5One can view the use of Lagrangian coordinates as an extension of the method of characteristics. Indeed, from the chain rule we see that for any smooth function of Eulerian spacetime, one hasand hence any transport equation that in Eulerian coordinates takes the form

for smooth functions of Eulerian spacetime is equivalent to the ODE

where are the smooth functions of Lagrangian spacetime defined by

In this set of notes we recall some basic differential geometry notation, particularly with regards to pullbacks and Lie derivatives of differential forms and other tensor fields on manifolds such as and , and explore how the Euler equations look in this notation. Our discussion will be entirely formal in nature; we will assume that all functions have enough smoothness and decay at infinity to justify the relevant calculations. (It is possible to work rigorously in Lagrangian coordinates – see for instance the work of Ebin and Marsden – but we will not do so here.) As a general rule, Lagrangian coordinates tend to be somewhat less convenient to use than Eulerian coordinates for establishing the basic analytic properties of the Euler equations, such as local existence, uniqueness, and continuous dependence on the data; however, they are quite good at clarifying the more algebraic properties of these equations, such as conservation laws and the variational nature of the equations. It may well be that in the future we will be able to use the Lagrangian formalism more effectively on the analytic side of the subject also.

Remark 6One can also write the Navier-Stokes equations in Lagrangian coordinates, but the equations are not expressed in a favourable form in these coordinates, as the Laplacian appearing in the viscosity term becomes replaced with a time-varying Laplace-Beltrami operator. As such, we will not discuss the Lagrangian coordinate formulation of Navier-Stokes here.

This coming fall quarter, I am teaching a class on topics in the mathematical theory of incompressible fluid equations, focusing particularly on the incompressible Euler and Navier-Stokes equations. These two equations are by no means the only equations used to model fluids, but I will focus on these two equations in this course to narrow the focus down to something manageable. I have not fully decided on the choice of topics to cover in this course, but I would probably begin with some core topics such as local well-posedness theory and blowup criteria, conservation laws, and construction of weak solutions, then move on to some topics such as boundary layers and the Prandtl equations, the Euler-Poincare-Arnold interpretation of the Euler equations as an infinite dimensional geodesic flow, and some discussion of the Onsager conjecture. I will probably also continue to more advanced and recent topics in the winter quarter.

In this initial set of notes, we begin by reviewing the physical derivation of the Euler and Navier-Stokes equations from the first principles of Newtonian mechanics, and specifically from Newton’s famous three laws of motion. Strictly speaking, this derivation is not needed for the mathematical analysis of these equations, which can be viewed if one wishes as an arbitrarily chosen system of partial differential equations without any physical motivation; however, I feel that the derivation sheds some insight and intuition on these equations, and is also worth knowing on purely intellectual grounds regardless of its mathematical consequences. I also find it instructive to actually see the journey from Newton’s law

to the seemingly rather different-looking law

for incompressible Navier-Stokes (or, if one drops the viscosity term , the Euler equations).

Our discussion in this set of notes is physical rather than mathematical, and so we will not be working at mathematical levels of rigour and precision. In particular we will be fairly casual about interchanging summations, limits, and integrals, we will manipulate approximate identities as if they were exact identities (e.g., by differentiating both sides of the approximate identity), and we will not attempt to verify any regularity or convergence hypotheses in the expressions being manipulated. (The same holds for the exercises in this text, which also do not need to be justified at mathematical levels of rigour.) Of course, once we resume the mathematical portion of this course in subsequent notes, such issues will be an important focus of careful attention. This is a basic division of labour in mathematical modeling: non-rigorous heuristic reasoning is used to derive a mathematical model from physical (or other “real-life”) principles, but once a precise model is obtained, the analysis of that model should be completely rigorous if at all possible (even if this requires applying the model to regimes which do not correspond to the original physical motivation of that model). See the discussion by John Ball quoted at the end of these slides of Gero Friesecke for an expansion of these points.

Note: our treatment here will differ slightly from that presented in many fluid mechanics texts, in that it will emphasise first-principles derivations from many-particle systems, rather than relying on bulk laws of physics, such as the laws of thermodynamics, which we will not cover here. (However, the derivations from bulk laws tend to be more robust, in that they are not as reliant on assumptions about the particular interactions between particles. In particular, the physical hypotheses we assume in this post are probably quite a bit stronger than the minimal assumptions needed to justify the Euler or Navier-Stokes equations, which can hold even in situations in which one or more of the hypotheses assumed here break down.)

The Boussinesq equations for inviscid, incompressible two-dimensional fluid flow in the presence of gravity are given by

where is the velocity field, is the pressure field, and is the density field (or, in some physical interpretations, the temperature field). In this post we shall restrict ourselves to formal manipulations, assuming implicitly that all fields are regular enough (or sufficiently decaying at spatial infinity) that the manipulations are justified. Using the material derivative , one can abbreviate these equations as

One can eliminate the role of the pressure by working with the *vorticity* . A standard calculation then leads us to the equivalent “vorticity-stream” formulation

of the Boussinesq equations. The latter two equations can be used to recover the velocity field from the vorticity by the Biot-Savart law

It has long been observed (see e.g. Section 5.4.1 of Bertozzi-Majda) that the Boussinesq equations are very similar, though not quite identical, to the three-dimensional inviscid incompressible Euler equations under the hypothesis of axial symmetry (with swirl). The Euler equations are

where now the velocity field and pressure field are over the three-dimensional domain . If one expresses in polar coordinates then one can write the velocity vector field in these coordinates as

If we make the axial symmetry assumption that these components, as well as , do not depend on the variable, thus

then after some calculation (which we give below the fold) one can eventually reduce the Euler equations to the system

where is the modified material derivative, and is the field . This is almost identical with the Boussinesq equations except for some additional powers of ; thus, the intuition is that the Boussinesq equations are a simplified model for axially symmetric Euler flows when one stays away from the axis and also does not wander off to .

However, this heuristic is not rigorous; the above calculations do not actually give an embedding of the Boussinesq equations into Euler. (The equations do match on the cylinder , but this is a measure zero subset of the domain, and so is not enough to give an embedding on any non-trivial region of space.) Recently, while playing around with trying to embed other equations into the Euler equations, I discovered that it is possible to make such an embedding into a *four*-dimensional Euler equation, albeit on a slightly curved manifold rather than in Euclidean space. More precisely, we use the Ebin-Marsden generalisation

of the Euler equations to an arbitrary Riemannian manifold (ignoring any issues of boundary conditions for this discussion), where is a time-dependent vector field, is a time-dependent scalar field, and is the covariant derivative along using the Levi-Civita connection . In Penrose abstract index notation (using the Levi-Civita connection , and raising and lowering indices using the metric ), the equations of motion become

in coordinates, this becomes

where the Christoffel symbols are given by the formula

where is the inverse to the metric tensor . If the coordinates are chosen so that the volume form is the Euclidean volume form , thus , then on differentiating we have , and hence , and so the divergence-free equation (10) simplifies in this case to . The Ebin-Marsden Euler equations are the natural generalisation of the Euler equations to arbitrary manifolds; for instance, they (formally) conserve the kinetic energy

and can be viewed as the formal geodesic flow equation on the infinite-dimensional manifold of volume-preserving diffeomorphisms on (see this previous post for a discussion of this in the flat space case).

The specific four-dimensional manifold in question is the space with metric

and solutions to the Boussinesq equation on can be transformed into solutions to the Euler equations on this manifold. This is part of a more general family of embeddings into the Euler equations in which passive scalar fields (such as the field appearing in the Boussinesq equations) can be incorporated into the dynamics via fluctuations in the Riemannian metric ). I am writing the details below the fold (partly for my own benefit).

I’ve been meaning to return to fluids for some time now, in order to build upon my construction two years ago of a solution to an averaged Navier-Stokes equation that exhibited finite time blowup. (I recently spoke on this work in the recent conference in Princeton in honour of Sergiu Klainerman; my slides for that talk are here.)

One of the biggest deficiencies with my previous result is the fact that the averaged Navier-Stokes equation does not enjoy any good equation for the vorticity , in contrast to the true Navier-Stokes equations which, when written in vorticity-stream formulation, become

(Throughout this post we will be working in three spatial dimensions .) So one of my main near-term goals in this area is to exhibit an equation resembling Navier-Stokes as much as possible which enjoys a vorticity equation, and for which there is finite time blowup.

Heuristically, this task should be easier for the Euler equations (i.e. the zero viscosity case of Navier-Stokes) than the viscous Navier-Stokes equation, as one expects the viscosity to only make it easier for the solution to stay regular. Indeed, morally speaking, the assertion that finite time blowup solutions of Navier-Stokes exist should be roughly equivalent to the assertion that finite time blowup solutions of Euler exist which are “Type I” in the sense that all Navier-Stokes-critical and Navier-Stokes-subcritical norms of this solution go to infinity (which, as explained in the above slides, heuristically means that the effects of viscosity are negligible when compared against the nonlinear components of the equation). In vorticity-stream formulation, the Euler equations can be written as

As discussed in this previous blog post, a natural generalisation of this system of equations is the system

where is a linear operator on divergence-free vector fields that is “zeroth order” in some sense; ideally it should also be invertible, self-adjoint, and positive definite (in order to have a Hamiltonian that is comparable to the kinetic energy ). (In the previous blog post, it was observed that the surface quasi-geostrophic (SQG) equation could be embedded in a system of the form (1).) The system (1) has many features in common with the Euler equations; for instance vortex lines are transported by the velocity field , and Kelvin’s circulation theorem is still valid.

So far, I have not been able to fully achieve this goal. However, I have the following partial result, stated somewhat informally:

Theorem 1There is a “zeroth order” linear operator (which, unfortunately, is not invertible, self-adjoint, or positive definite) for which the system (1) exhibits smooth solutions that blowup in finite time.

The operator constructed is not quite a zeroth-order pseudodifferential operator; it is instead merely in the “forbidden” symbol class , and more precisely it takes the form

for some compactly supported divergence-free of mean zero with

being rescalings of . This operator is still bounded on all spaces , and so is arguably still a zeroth order operator, though not as convincingly as I would like. Another, less significant, issue with the result is that the solution constructed does not have good spatial decay properties, but this is mostly for convenience and it is likely that the construction can be localised to give solutions that have reasonable decay in space. But the biggest drawback of this theorem is the fact that is not invertible, self-adjoint, or positive definite, so in particular there is no non-negative Hamiltonian for this equation. It may be that some modification of the arguments below can fix these issues, but I have so far been unable to do so. Still, the construction does show that the circulation theorem is insufficient by itself to prevent blowup.

We sketch the proof of the above theorem as follows. We use the barrier method, introducing the time-varying hyperboloid domains

for (expressed in cylindrical coordinates ). We will select initial data to be for some non-negative even bump function supported on , normalised so that

in particular is divergence-free supported in , with vortex lines connecting to . Suppose for contradiction that we have a smooth solution to (1) with this initial data; to simplify the discussion we assume that the solution behaves well at spatial infinity (this can be justified with the choice (2) of vorticity-stream operator, but we will not do so here). Since the domains disconnect from at time , there must exist a time which is the first time where the support of touches the boundary of , with supported in .

From (1) we see that the support of is transported by the velocity field . Thus, at the point of contact of the support of with the boundary of , the inward component of the velocity field cannot exceed the inward velocity of . We will construct the functions so that this is not the case, leading to the desired contradiction. (Geometrically, what is going on here is that the operator is pinching the flow to pass through the narrow cylinder , leading to a singularity by time at the latest.)

First we observe from conservation of circulation, and from the fact that is supported in , that the integrals

are constant in both space and time for . From the choice of initial data we thus have

for all and all . On the other hand, if is of the form (2) with for some bump function that only has -components, then is divergence-free with mean zero, and

where . We choose to be supported in the slab for some large constant , and to equal a function depending only on on the cylinder , normalised so that . If , then passes through this cylinder, and we conclude that

Inserting ths into (2), (1) we conclude that

for some coefficients . We will not be able to control these coefficients , but fortunately we only need to understand on the boundary , for which . So, if happens to be supported on an annulus , then vanishes on if is large enough. We then have

on the boundary of .

Let be a function of the form

where is a bump function supported on that equals on . We can perform a dyadic decomposition where

where is a bump function supported on with . If we then set

then one can check that for a function that is divergence-free and mean zero, and supported on the annulus , and

so on (where ) we have

One can manually check that the inward velocity of this vector on exceeds the inward velocity of if is large enough, and the claim follows.

Remark 2The type of blowup suggested by this construction, where a unit amount of circulation is squeezed into a narrow cylinder, is of “Type II” with respect to the Navier-Stokes scaling, because Navier-Stokes-critical norms such (or at least ) look like they stay bounded during this squeezing procedure (the velocity field is of size about in cylinders of radius and length about ). So even if the various issues with are repaired, it does not seem likely that this construction can be directly adapted to obtain a corresponding blowup for a Navier-Stokes type equation. To get a “Type I” blowup that is consistent with Kelvin’s circulation theorem, it seems that one needs to coil the vortex lines around a loop multiple times in order to get increased circulation in a small space. This seems possible to pull off to me – there don’t appear to be any unavoidable obstructions coming from topology, scaling, or conservation laws – but would require a more complicated construction than the one given above.

Throughout this post, we will work only at the *formal* level of analysis, ignoring issues of convergence of integrals, justifying differentiation under the integral sign, and so forth. (Rigorous justification of the conservation laws and other identities arising from the formal manipulations below can usually be established in an *a posteriori* fashion once the identities are in hand, without the need to rigorously justify the manipulations used to come up with these identities).

It is a remarkable fact in the theory of differential equations that many of the ordinary and partial differential equations that are of interest (particularly in geometric PDE, or PDE arising from mathematical physics) admit a variational formulation; thus, a collection of one or more fields on a domain taking values in a space will solve the differential equation of interest if and only if is a critical point to the functional

involving the fields and their first derivatives , where the Lagrangian is a function on the vector bundle over consisting of triples with , , and a linear transformation; we also usually keep the boundary data of fixed in case has a non-trivial boundary, although we will ignore these issues here. (We also ignore the possibility of having additional constraints imposed on and , which require the machinery of Lagrange multipliers to deal with, but which will only serve as a distraction for the current discussion.) It is common to use local coordinates to parameterise as and as , in which case can be viewed locally as a function on .

Example 1 (Geodesic flow)Take and to be a Riemannian manifold, which we will write locally in coordinates as with metric for . A geodesic is then a critical point (keeping fixed) of the energy functionalor in coordinates (ignoring coordinate patch issues, and using the usual summation conventions)

As discussed in this previous post, both the Euler equations for rigid body motion, and the Euler equations for incompressible inviscid flow, can be interpreted as geodesic flow (though in the latter case, one has to work

reallyformally, as the manifold is now infinite dimensional).More generally, if is itself a Riemannian manifold, which we write locally in coordinates as with metric for , then a harmonic map is a critical point of the energy functional

or in coordinates (again ignoring coordinate patch issues)

If we replace the Riemannian manifold by a Lorentzian manifold, such as Minkowski space , then the notion of a harmonic map is replaced by that of a wave map, which generalises the scalar wave equation (which corresponds to the case ).

Example 2 (-particle interactions)Take and ; then a function can be interpreted as a collection of trajectories in space, which we give a physical interpretation as the trajectories of particles. If we assign each particle a positive mass , and also introduce a potential energy function , then it turns out that Newton’s laws of motion in this context (with the force on the particle being given by the conservative force ) are equivalent to the trajectories being a critical point of the action functional

Formally, if is a critical point of a functional , this means that

whenever is a (smooth) deformation with (and with respecting whatever boundary conditions are appropriate). Interchanging the derivative and integral, we (formally, at least) arrive at

Write for the infinitesimal deformation of . By the chain rule, can be expressed in terms of . In coordinates, we have

where we parameterise by , and we use subscripts on to denote partial derivatives in the various coefficients. (One can of course work in a coordinate-free manner here if one really wants to, but the notation becomes a little cumbersome due to the need to carefully split up the tangent space of , and we will not do so here.) Thus we can view (2) as an integral identity that asserts the vanishing of a certain integral, whose integrand involves , where vanishes at the boundary but is otherwise unconstrained.

A general rule of thumb in PDE and calculus of variations is that whenever one has an integral identity of the form for some class of functions that vanishes on the boundary, then there must be an associated differential identity that justifies this integral identity through Stokes’ theorem. This rule of thumb helps explain why integration by parts is used so frequently in PDE to justify integral identities. The rule of thumb can fail when one is dealing with “global” or “cohomologically non-trivial” integral identities of a topological nature, such as the Gauss-Bonnet or Kazhdan-Warner identities, but is quite reliable for “local” or “cohomologically trivial” identities, such as those arising from calculus of variations.

In any case, if we apply this rule to (2), we expect that the integrand should be expressible as a spatial divergence. This is indeed the case:

Proposition 1(Formal) Let be a critical point of the functional defined in (1). Then for any deformation with , we havewhere is the vector field that is expressible in coordinates as

*Proof:* Comparing (4) with (3), we see that the claim is equivalent to the Euler-Lagrange equation

The same computation, together with an integration by parts, shows that (2) may be rewritten as

Since is unconstrained on the interior of , the claim (6) follows (at a formal level, at least).

Many variational problems also enjoy one-parameter continuous *symmetries*: given any field (not necessarily a critical point), one can place that field in a one-parameter family with , such that

for all ; in particular,

which can be written as (2) as before. Applying the previous rule of thumb, we thus expect another divergence identity

whenever arises from a continuous one-parameter symmetry. This expectation is indeed the case in many examples. For instance, if the spatial domain is the Euclidean space , and the Lagrangian (when expressed in coordinates) has no direct dependence on the spatial variable , thus

then we obtain translation symmetries

for , where is the standard basis for . For a fixed , the left-hand side of (7) then becomes

where . Another common type of symmetry is a *pointwise* symmetry, in which

for all , in which case (7) clearly holds with .

If we subtract (4) from (7), we obtain the celebrated theorem of Noether linking symmetries with conservation laws:

Theorem 2 (Noether’s theorem)Suppose that is a critical point of the functional (1), and let be a one-parameter continuous symmetry with . Let be the vector field in (5), and let be the vector field in (7). Then we have the pointwise conservation law

In particular, for one-dimensional variational problems, in which , we have the conservation law for all (assuming of course that is connected and contains ).

Noether’s theorem gives a systematic way to locate conservation laws for solutions to variational problems. For instance, if and the Lagrangian has no explicit time dependence, thus

then by using the time translation symmetry , we have

as discussed previously, whereas we have , and hence by (5)

and so Noether’s theorem gives conservation of the *Hamiltonian*

For instance, for geodesic flow, the Hamiltonian works out to be

so we see that the speed of the geodesic is conserved over time.

For pointwise symmetries (9), vanishes, and so Noether’s theorem simplifies to ; in the one-dimensional case , we thus see from (5) that the quantity

is conserved in time. For instance, for the -particle system in Example 2, if we have the translation invariance

for all , then we have the pointwise translation symmetry

for all , and some , in which case , and the conserved quantity (11) becomes

as was arbitrary, this establishes conservation of the *total momentum*

Similarly, if we have the rotation invariance

for any and , then we have the pointwise rotation symmetry

for any skew-symmetric real matrix , in which case , and the conserved quantity (11) becomes

since is an arbitrary skew-symmetric matrix, this establishes conservation of the *total angular momentum*

Below the fold, I will describe how Noether’s theorem can be used to locate all of the conserved quantities for the Euler equations of inviscid fluid flow, discussed in this previous post, by interpreting that flow as geodesic flow in an infinite dimensional manifold.

As we are all now very much aware, tsunamis are water waves that start in the deep ocean, usually because of an underwater earthquake (though tsunamis can also be caused by underwater landslides or volcanoes), and then propagate towards shore. Initially, tsunamis have relatively small amplitude (a metre or so is typical), which would seem to render them as harmless as wind waves. And indeed, tsunamis often pass by ships in deep ocean without anyone on board even noticing.

However, being generated by an event as large as an earthquake, the *wavelength* of the tsunami is huge – 200 kilometres is typical (in contrast with wind waves, whose wavelengths are typically closer to 100 metres). In particular, the wavelength of the tsunami is far greater than the depth of the ocean (which is typically 2-3 kilometres). As such, even in the deep ocean, the dynamics of tsunamis are essentially governed by the shallow water equations. One consequence of these equations is that the speed of propagation of a tsunami can be approximated by the formula

where is the depth of the ocean, and is the force of gravity. As such, tsunamis in deep water move *very* fast – speeds such as 500 kilometres per hour (300 miles per hour) are quite typical; enough to travel from Japan to the US, for instance, in less than a day. Ultimately, this is due to the incompressibility of water (and conservation of mass); the massive net pressure (or more precisely, spatial variations in this pressure) of a very broad and deep wave of water forces the profile of the wave to move horizontally at vast speeds. (Note though that this is the phase velocity of the tsunami wave, and not the velocity of the water molecues themselves, which are far slower.)

As the tsunami approaches shore, the depth of course decreases, causing the tsunami to slow down, at a rate proportional to the square root of the depth, as per (1). Unfortunately, wave shoaling then forces the amplitude to increase at an inverse rate governed by *Green’s law*,

at least until the amplitude becomes comparable to the water depth (at which point the assumptions that underlie the above approximate results break down; also, in two (horizontal) spatial dimensions there will be some decay of amplitude as the tsunami spreads outwards). If one starts with a tsunami whose initial amplitude was at depth and computes the point at which the amplitude and depth become comparable using the proportionality relationship (2), some high school algebra then reveals that at this point, amplitude of a tsunami (and the depth of the water) is about . Thus, for instance, a tsunami with initial amplitude of one metre at a depth of 2 kilometres can end up with a final amplitude of about 5 metres near shore, while still traveling at about ten metres per second (35 kilometres per hour, or 22 miles per hour), and we have all now seen the impact that can have when it hits shore.

While tsunamis are far too massive of an event to be able to control (at least in the deep ocean), we can at least model them mathematically, allowing one to predict their impact at various places along the coast with high accuracy. (For instance, here is a video of the NOAA’s model of the March 11 tsunami, which has matched up very well with subsequent measurements.) The full equations and numerical methods used to perform such models are somewhat sophisticated, but by making a large number of simplifying assumptions, it is relatively easy to come up with a rough model that already predicts the basic features of tsunami propagation, such as the velocity formula (1) and the amplitude proportionality law (2). I give this (standard) derivation below the fold. The argument will largely be heuristic in nature; there are very interesting analytic issues in actually justifying many of the steps below rigorously, but I will not discuss these matters here.

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