Applications of knot theory in fluid mechanics

Volume 42 / 1998

Renzo Ricca Banach Center Publications 42 (1998), 321-346 DOI: 10.4064/-42-1-321-346


In this paper we present an overview of some recent results on applications of knot theory in fluid mechanics, as part of a new discipline called `topological fluid mechanics' (TFM). The choice of the topics covered here is deliberately restricted to those areas that involve mainly a combination of ideal fluid mechanics techniques and knot theory concepts, complemented with a brief description of some other concepts that have important applications in fluid systems. We begin with the concept of topological equivalence of fluid flow maps, giving a definition of knotted and linked flux-tubes. In the fluid mechanics context Reidemeister's moves are interpreted in terms of local actions of fluid flows performed on fluid structures. An old theorem of Lichtenstein (1925) concerning the isotopic evolution of vortex structures in the context of the Euler equations is re-proposed and discussed in the TFM context for the first time. Then, we review the relationship between helicity and linking numbers and we present some recent results on magnetic relaxation of linked, knotted and braided structures in magnetohydrodynamics. In the context of the Euler equations (and under certain approximations given by the so-called `localized induction' for vortex structures) we briefly examine some interesting relationships between integrability and existence and stability of vortex filaments in the shape of torus knots. We conclude with an overview of some new results concerning electrically charged knots embedded in a viscous fluid, elastic relaxation of strings and braids and relationships between energy levels and topological information. Some simple bounds on elastic energy levels given by global geometric quantities and topological quantities are presented and discussed for the first time.


  • Renzo Ricca

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