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Publication 142

Least action principles for incompressible flows and optimal transport between shapes


Jian-Guo Liu
Departments of Physics and Mathematics
Duke University
Durham, NC 27708

CMURobert L. Pego
Department of Mathematical Sciences
Carnegie Mellon University
Pittsburgh, PA 15213

CMUDejan Slepčev
Department of Mathematical Sciences
Carnegie Mellon University
Pittsburgh, PA 15213

As V. I. Arnold observed in the 1960s, the Euler equations of incompressible fluid flow correspond formally to geodesic equations in a group of volume-preserving diffeomorphisms. Working in an Eulerian framework, we study incompressible flows of shapes as critical paths for action (kinetic energy) along transport paths constrained to be shape densities (characteristic functions). The formal geodesic equations for this problem are Euler equations for incompressible, inviscid potential flow of fluid with zero pressure and surface tension on the free boundary. The problem of minimizing this action exhibits an instability associated with microdroplet formation, with the following outcomes: Any two shapes of equal volume can be approximately connected by an Euler spray - a countable superposition of ellipsoidal geodesics. The infimum of the action is the Wasserstein distance squared, and is almost never attained except in dimension 1. Every Wasserstein geodesic between bounded densities of compact support provides a solution of the (compressible) pressureless Euler system that is a weak limit of (incompressible) Euler sprays. Each such Wasserstein geodesic is also the unique minimizer of a relaxed least-action principle for a two-fluid mixture theory corresponding to incompressible fluid mixed with vacuum.
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