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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

\displaystyle F = ma

to the seemingly rather different-looking law

\displaystyle \partial_t u + (u \cdot \nabla) u = -\nabla p + \nu \Delta u

\displaystyle \nabla \cdot u = 0

for incompressible Navier-Stokes (or, if one drops the viscosity term {\nu \Delta u}, 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 {X \approx Y} 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.)

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One of the more unintuitive facts about sailing is that it is possible to harness the power of the wind to sail in a direction against that of the wind or to sail with a speed faster than the wind itself, even when the water itself is calm.  It is somewhat less known, but nevertheless true, that one can (in principle) do both at the same time – sail against the wind (even directly against the wind!) at speeds faster than the wind.   This does not contradict any laws of physics, such as conservation of momentum or energy (basically because the reservoir of momentum and energy in the wind far outweighs the portion that will be transmitted to the sailboat), but it is certainly not obvious at first sight how it is to be done.

The key is to exploit all three dimensions of space when sailing.  The most obvious dimension to exploit is the windward/leeward dimension – the direction that the wind velocity v_0  is oriented in.  But if this is the only dimension one exploits, one can only sail up to the wind speed |v_0| and no faster, and it is not possible to sail in the direction opposite to the wind.

Things get more interesting when one also exploits the crosswind dimension perpendicular to the wind velocity, in particular by tacking the sail.  If one does this, then (in principle) it becomes possible to travel up to double the speed |v_0| of wind, as we shall see below.

However, one still cannot sail against to the wind purely by tacking the sail.  To do this, one needs to not just harness  the power of the wind, but also that of the water beneath the sailboat, thus exploiting (barely) the third available dimension.  By combining the use of a sail in the air with the use of sails in the water – better known as keels, rudders, and hydrofoils – one can now sail in certain directions against the wind, and at certain speeds.  In most sailboats, one relies primarily on the keel, which lets one sail against the wind but not directly opposite it.  But if one tacks the rudder or other hydrofoils as well as the sail, then in fact one can (in principle) sail in arbitrary directions (including those directly opposite to v_0), and in arbitrary speeds (even those much larger than |v_0|), although it is quite difficult to actually achieve this in practice.  It may seem odd that the water, which we are assuming to be calm (i.e. traveling at zero velocity) can be used to increase the range of available velocities and speeds for the sailboat, but we shall see shortly why this is the case.

If one makes several simplifying and idealised (and, admittedly, rather unrealistic in practice) assumptions in the underlying physics, then sailing can in fact be analysed by a simple two-dimensional geometric model which explains all of the above statements.  In this post, I would like to describe this mathematical model and how it gives the conclusions stated above.

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