An adaptive method for computing invariant manifolds in non-autonomous, three-dimensional dynamical systems

M. Branicki, S. Wiggins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We present a computational method for determining the geometry of a class of three-dimensional invariant manifolds in non-autonomous (aperiodically time-dependent) dynamical systems. The presented approach can be also applied to analyse the geometry of 3D invariant manifolds in three-dimensional, time-dependent fluid flows. The invariance property of such manifolds requires that, at any fixed time, they are given by surfaces in R3. We focus on a class of manifolds whose instantaneous geometry is given by orientable surfaces embedded in R3. The presented technique can be employed, in particular, to compute codimension one (invariant) stable and unstable manifolds of hyperbolic trajectories in 3D non-autonomous dynamical systems which are crucial in the Lagrangian transport analysis. The same approach can also be used to determine evolution of an orientable ‘material surface’ in a fluid flow. These developments represent the first step towards a non-trivial 3D extension of the so-called lobe dynamics — a geometric, invariant-manifold-based framework which has been very successful in the analysis of Lagrangian transport in unsteady, two-dimensional fluid flows. In the developed algorithm, the instantaneous geometry of an invariant manifold is represented by an adaptively evolving triangular mesh with piecewise C2 interpolating functions. The method employs an automatic mesh refinement which is coupled with adaptive vertex redistribution. A variant of the advancing front technique is used for remeshing, whenever necessary. Such an approach allows for computationally efficient determination of highly convoluted, evolving geometry of codimension one invariant manifolds in unsteady three-dimensional flows. We show that the developed method is capable of providing detailed information on the evolving Lagrangian flow structure in three dimensions over long periods of time, which is crucial for a meaningful 3D transport analysis.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1625-1657
Number of pages33
JournalPhysica D: Nonlinear Phenomena
Issue number16
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2009


  • Invariant manifolds
  • Nonautonomous dynamical systems
  • Hyperbolic trajectories
  • Material surfaces
  • Three-dimensional flows

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