- The water flowing out of a fountain demonstrates an important property of vector fields, the Divergence Theorem.
Consider a fountain like the one pictured, particularly its top layer. The rate that water flows out of the fountain's spout is directly related to the amount of water that flows off the top layer. Because something like water isn't easily compressed like air, if more water is pumped out of the spout, then more water will have to flow over the boundaries of the top layer. This is essentially what The Divergence Theorem states: the sum of the fluid being introduced into a volume is equal to the sum of the fluid flowing out of the boundary of the volume.
A More Mathematical Explanation
- Note: understanding of this explanation requires: *Multivariable Calculus
The Divergence Theorem in its pure form applies to vector fields. Flowing water can be considere [...]
The Divergence Theorem in its pure form applies to vector fields. Flowing water can be considered a vector field because at each point the water has a position and a velocity vector. Faster moving water is represented by a larger vector in our field. The divergence of a vector field is a measurement of the expansion or contraction of the field; if more water is being introduced then the divergence is positive. Analytically divergence of a field is
where is the component of in the direction. Intuitively, if F has a large positive rate of change in the x direction, the partial derivative with respect to x in this direction will be large, increasing total divergence. The divergence theorem requires that we sum divergence over an entire volume. If this sum is positive, then the field must indicate some movement out of the volume through its boundary, while if this sum is negative, the field must have indicate movement into the volume through its boundary. We use the notion of flux, the flow through a surface, to quantify this movement through the boundary, which itself is a surface.
The divergence theorem is formally stated as:
The left side of this equation is the sum of the divergence over the entire volume, and the right side of this equation is the sum of the field perpendicular to the volume's boundary at the boundary, which is the flux through the boundary.
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