The motion of point vortices on closed surfaces

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We develop a mathematical framework for the dynamics of a set of point vortices on a class of differentiable surfaces conformal to the unit sphere. When the sum of the vortex circulations is non-zero, a compensating uniform vorticity field is required to satisfy the Gauss condition (that the integral of the Laplace–Beltrami operator must vanish). On variable Gaussian curvature surfaces, this results in self-induced vortex motion, a feature entirely absent on the plane, the sphere or the hyperboloid. We derive explicit equations of motion for vortices on surfaces of revolution and compute their solutions for a variety of surfaces. We also apply these equations to study the linear stability of a ring of vortices on any surface of revolution. On an ellipsoid of revolution, as few as two vortices can be unstable on oblate surfaces or sufficiently prolate ones. This extends known results for the plane, where seven vortices are marginally unstable (Thomson 1883 A treatise on the motion of vortex rings, pp. 94–108; Dritschel 1985 J. Fluid Mech.157, 95–134 (doi:10.1017/S0022112088003088)), and the sphere, where four vortices may be unstable if sufficiently close to the equator (Polvani & Dritschel 1993 J. Fluid Mech.255, 35–64 (doi:10.1017/S0022112093002381)).
Original languageEnglish
Article number20140890
Pages (from-to)1-25
Number of pages25
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society A - Mathematical, Physical & Engineering Sciences
Issue number2176
Early online date8 Apr 2015
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2015


  • Vortex dynamics
  • Point vortices
  • Closed surfaces


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