# BRILL-NOETHER THEORY. This article follows the paper of Griffiths and Harris, "On the variety of special linear systems on a general algebraic curve.

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2 TONY FENG Remark 1.2. It turns out that this is exactly the threshold when all curves possess such a line bundle. Example 1.3. Let s consider the case r = 1. We seek linear systems with dimension 1 and degree d, or what is commonly known as a g 2 d. One says that a divisor in such a linear system moves in a pencil. Note that the trivial upper bound coming from Riemann-Roch (which is not really trivial at all!) is g + 1, since Riemann s inequality that for a divisor D of degree at least g + 1, we have h 0 (D) g g = 2. g = 0. There is a degree 1 map P 1 P 1. g = 1. There cannot be a degree 1 divisor on C. However, by Riemann-Roch any degree 2 divisor on C moves in a pencil: if deg D = 2, then h 0 (D) = h 0 (K D) 2. You can see this directly if you know that every elliptic curve has a Weierstrass form y 2 = x Then there is an obvious degree 2 map to P 1, extending (x, y) x. However, I want to highlight a different point of view which will be very useful for us. What is the relation between a linear system and a map to P 1? Usually we think of a map C D P 1 as being a function that associates to every point of C a point of P 1. However, you can flip the script and thinking of it instead as a family of subvarieties of C parametrized by P 1. What are the fibers of this family? Precisely the divisors of the linear system D! Now, can we see any family of degree 2 divisors on C which move in a pencil, i.e. are parametrized by P 1? Well, if you embed C in P 2 as a cubic, you can consider the pencil of lines in P 2 passing through a fixed p C. Any such line meets C in exactly two other points, and those collections of points precisely form the elements of a degree 2 linear system. In particuliar, if we take p = then we are consider the pencil of lines through. But in the Weierstrass model, those are precisely the vertical lines, which recovers the map 2

3 BRILL-NOETHER THEORY (x, y) x from before. g = 2. By Riemann-Roch, every such curve is hypereliptic (admits a degree 2 map to P 1 ). g = 3. First off, can we take d = 2? This would imply that most (actually every) genus 3 curve is hyperelliptic, but it is easy to see that plane quartics have genus 3 and must be canonically embedded, and that these form an open subset of M 3. Therefore, d 3. In fact, this observation gives a handle on general genus 3 curves as plane quartics under their canonical embeddings. We re looking for a degree 3 divisor. Again, we can take the linear system cut out by the system of lines passing through a fixed point p C. g = 4. Now a general smooth projective curve of genus g = 4 is the complete intersection of a quadric and a cubic curve under its canonical embedding. Generally this quadric will be smooth TONY: [some initial calculations suggest it is always]. But a smooth quadric in P 3 is isomorphic to P 1 P 1 (under the Segre embedding), hence has Picard group Z Z. Moreover, since the line bundle giving the Segre embedding is O(1, 1), the curve C represents the class (3, 3) in Pic(P 1 P 1 ). There is a visible linear system of degree 3 obtained from (say) the pullback of the line bundle (0, 1), which is simply projection to the second coordinate. This argument shows that d 3. To see that d > 2, we could just apply Bertini s Theorem to argue that an intersection of a smooth cubic and smooth quadric surface in P 3 is smooth and canonically embedded, and count dimensions to show that the space of such already fills out an open subset of M 4. Instead, we will present a different argument that works in general. If C has a g 1 d, then it can be presented as a degree d branched cover of P1. We simply compare the dimension of M g (which is 3g 3) with the dimension N of all degree d branched covers of P 1. Obviously, if every curve in M g is going to have a g 1 d then we will need 3g 3 N. In fact, we need something more. We have a map from branched covers to M g which forgets the covering structure, but this is not finite. For instance, given any presentation of C as a branched cover of P 1, we can apply an element of PSL 2 to obtain another branched cover. Therefore, the fibers of this map, when they are non-empty, have dimension at least 3, so we need N 3g. By Riemann-Hurwitz, a degree d branched cover of P 1 has most 2g 2 + 2d. branch points. To specify the cover given the branch points, it suffices to specify a monodromy representation on the base, describing how the sheets are permuted under traversing a loop around a branch point. Thus, after specifying the branch points the cover is determined up to finite data. Thus, we have a finite map associating a branched cover its branch points, which is finite. So we see that N = 2g 2 + 2d, so what we need is 2g 2 + 2d 3g. Thus we need d g In particular, for g = 4 we need d 3. g = 5. By the dimension count we know that a general C is not trigonal, so d > 3. However, let s see this in another more geometric way. 3

5 BRILL-NOETHER THEORY know that a smooth quadric in P 3 has two rulings of lines, so the cone over it has two rulings of 2-planes. Let s compare the results with the lower bound obtained from the dimension argument. g d g This reflects the principle that the answer is what will be predicted by dimension arguments. We ll shortly see how to get a general answer using dimension arguments. 2. THE BRILL-NOETHER CONJECTURE Definition 2.1. We denote by Wd r (C) the subvariety of J(C) parametrizing those line bundles whose space of global sections is at least r + 1. Definition 2.2. The Brill-Noether number is ρ(g, r, d) := g (r + 1)(g d + r) = h 0 (K) h 0 (D)h 0 (K D). Conjecture 2.3 (Brill-Noether). For all curves C, dim Wd r (C) ρ(g, r, d). Moreover, for a general curve C we have dim Wd r (C) = ρ(g, r, d). Example 2.4. If r = 1, then this is saying that pencils of degree d exist only if g 2(g d + 2), or d g Where does this come from? Since we are interested in general curves, we may assume that C is canonically embedded. Then by the geometric form of Riemann-Roch, we are interested in when we can find points p 1,..., p d C which are in a highly special position under the canonical embedding. In concrete terms, we can pick a basis ω 1 = f 1 dz,..., ω g = f g dz for H 0 (C, Ω). Then under the canonical embedding the points have coordinates f 1 (p 1 ) f 1 (p 2 )... f 1 (p d ) f 2 (p 1 ) f 2 (p 2 )... f 2 (p d ) M(p 1,..., p d ) =.... f g (p 1 ) f g (p 2 )... f g (p d ) Geometric Riemann-Roch tells us that dim D is the difference between the dimension of the span of d points in general position and the dimension of the span of the d points comprising D, which is d rank M(p 1,..., p d ). Letting p 1,..., p d, we can think of this as a map C (d) Mat(g d) where C (d) is the dth symmetric power of C, and we are interested in the locus of d-tuples of points whose images are matrices of rank at most d r. Let s call this locus C r d. It maps to the Jacobian, contracting tuples of points that represent equivalent linear series, and hence is a P r -fibration over Wd r. Since codimension doesn t increase under pullback, the codimension of this locus is at most the codimension of the space of rank at most d r in the space of all g d matrices. This is just a linear algebra problem! 5

6 TONY FENG View such a matrix as a map C g C d. To such a map we can associate its image, which is generically of dimension d r, so the space of images is of dimension dim G(d r, d) = r(d r). Fixing the image, the space of homomorphisms is g(d r). So the dimension is (g + r)(d r). Therefore, the codimension is rg rd + r 2. We have found that the codimension of C r d in C(d) to be at most r(g d + r). Therefore, the dimension of C r d is at least d r(g d + r), and dim Wr d should then be at least d r(g d + r) r = g (r + 1)(g d + r), which is precisely ρ(g, d, r)! This is the original argument of Brill and Noether. There is one problem here, which is that we never precluded the possibility that C r d was actually empty. (The statement codimension doesn t increase has this caveat built into it; the empty set has any dimension!) Remark 2.5. Another subtlety is that one doesn t know a priori that dim C r d = dim Wr d + r. It could be the case that every degree d divisor with r + 1 sections automatically has r + 2 sections. Other than that issue, this argument is surprisingly complete. It is not hard to globalize it to show that dim Wd r ρ as long as Wr d is non-empty. Let me mention an elegant alternate way of phrasing this argument. Let L be a line bundle and p 1,..., p n points on C. Then we have an exact sequence of sheaves 0 L L(p p n ) i O pi 0. Therefore, we get a left-exact sequence on global sections 0 H 0 (C, L) H 0 (C, L(p p n )) i Therefore, we can interpret ( H 0 (C, L) = ker H 0 (C, L(p p n )) i C ) C. If n is sufficiently large, then we know h 0 (C, L(p p n )) precisely from Riemann- Roch, and this gives another realization of H 0 (C, L) as the locus of linear maps with small rank. 3. OUTLINE OF THE PROOF Kleiman and Laksov established the inequality. Theorem 3.1 (Kleiman-Laksov). For all curves C, if ρ(g, r, d) 0 then Wd r (C) is non-empty. As we mentioned above, this immediately implies that dim Wd r (C) ρ(g, r, d). Remark 3.2. When ρ(g, d, r) = 1, we expect the curves possessing a g r d to have dimension dim M g 1, i.e. to form a divisor in the moduli space. This idea is exploited by Harris and Eisenbud to prove that M g is of general type for large g. The other inequality was (historically) more challenging. This may be surprisingly, because standard upper-semicontinuity results imply that it is enough to exhibit a single C for which dim Wd r (C) ρ(g, d, r). Let us explain. It is famous fact that the smooth projective curves of genus g assemble into a moduli space M g of dimension 3g 3. Every such curve C has a Jacobian variety J(C) parametrizing line bundles on C of degree d, and it is a theorem that these fit together into a relative Jacobian 6

7 BRILL-NOETHER THEORY variety J g over M g. (You might complain that this is better thought of as a torsor for the Jacobian rather than the Jacobian itself; this is correct but irrelevant for our purposes since we won t use the group structure in any way.) The fiber of J g over [C] M g is precisely J(C). These spaces Wd r (C) assemble into a relative space W d r M g, and the work of Kleiman- Laksov/Brill-Noether shows that if ρ 0 then this map is dominant, and dim Wd r dim M g + ρ(g, r, d). By upper-semicontinuity of fiber dimensions for proper maps on the base, in order to prove the equality it suffices to exhibit a single curve C with dim Wd r (C) = ρ. We call such curves Brill-Noether general. This is not as easy as it sounds. To this day, nobody has ever written down explicitly such a smooth projective curve. The curves that are easy to write down and analyze - hyperelliptic (or more generally low gonality), complete intersections - are all Brill-Noether special. Remark 3.3. A few years after the Griffiths-Harris proof, Lazarsfeld produced a construction of smooth Brill-Noether general curves. However, this construction takes place within general K3 surfaces, which we don t really have any explicit way of writing down either. One feature that distinguishes this problem from classical results on linear series, such as Riemann-Roch or Clifford s theorem, is that it only holds for a general curve. A key trick in such situations is to introduce a variational element into the problem. More precisely, the strategy is: (1) Write down a singular curve which is Brill-Noether general" in some appropriate sense. (2) Consider a family of smooth curves degenerating to this singular curve, and show that the property of Brill-Noether generality spreads out to the family. We remark that the second step is not trivial. It would be trivial if one had a proper compactification of W r d over M g. However, the Jacobian of non-compact curves need not be compact, and for non-proper maps upper-semicontinuity of fiber dimension on the base does not hold (example: an open embedding). Eisenbud and Harris discovered that there is a nice notion of linear systems on certain kinds singular curves which are called compact type (defined by the property that their Jacobian is compact, or more concretely that the dual graph is a tree). They used this theory to give somewhat slicker proofs of the theorem, while the original approach of Griffiths and Harris (which we follow) relies on ad hoc synthetic constructions. Recently, Osserman and tropical geometers have made some further progress on the front of defining reasonable notions of linear series on singular curves. We will focus on the argument for the first step, which is based on ideas of Castelnuovo and Severi, and revived by Kleiman. Castelnuovo. Castelnuovo was interested in the enumerative problem of counting deg Wd r (C) for a general curve of C when ρ(g, d, r) = 0. In other words, when ρ(g, d, r) we expect a general smooth projective curve of genus g to have a finite number of g r ds, and Castelnuovo wanted to count this number. To do so, he introduced the following geometric construction. Degenerate C to a g-nodal rational curve C 0, which we shall call a Castelnuovo 7

8 TONY FENG canonical curve. Castelnuovo s idea was that if d, g, r are such that ρ(g, d, r) = dim W r d (C 0) = 0, then by the principle of conservation of number its degree will be the general answer. This fundamental principle of degeneration was the basis for Schubert s enumerative calculus, and a favorite trick of the 19th century algebraic geometers. The second talk will focus on the technique of degeneration. Now, the normalization of C 0 is P 1, so we can view a linear system on C 0 as a linear system on P 1 factoring through the quotient map gluing g pairs of points p 1, q 1,..., p g, q g. P 1 P r C 0 A linear system of degree d on P 1 is simply a linear system of hyperplanes in the dth Veronese embedding P 1 P d. To say that a linear system factors through the quotient map is to say that it takes the same values at p 1 and q 1, p 2 and q 2, etc. In other words, p i and q i should always appear in the same hyperplane section. An r-dimensional linear system of hyperplanes is determined by its base locus, which has dimension d r 1. What is the condition that a hyperplane in this linear system passes through p i if and only if it passes through q i? This is equivalent to the base locus intersecting the secant between p i and q i, for then any hyperplane containing p i contains 8

9 BRILL-NOETHER THEORY two points on the secant, hence the whole secant. Therefore, the dimension of the space of linear systems of degree d and dimension r is the dimension of the space of d r 1 planes intersecting every secant p i q i. This is an intersection problem in G(d r 1, d), which has dimension (d r)(r + 1). The condition that a d r 1 plane passes through a line is of codimension r, so the resulting space has expected dimension (d r)(r + 1) gr = g (r + 1)(g d + r) = ρ(g, d, r). Severi. Castelnuovo assumed the Brill-Noether Conjecture and used this idea to count (correctly!) the number of such d r 1 planes when ρ(g, d, r) = 0. It wasn t until Severi (in the 1920s) that it pointed out, at least in public writing, that the Brill-Noether theorem had never been rigorously proven, and he suggested that Castelnuovo s construction could be used to prove it. Specifically, he suggested a two-step argument. (1) Show that the expected dimension is correct for Castelnuovo s canonical curves. (2) Show that this result would spread out to imply the theorem. Severi could not rigorously establish either part. Eventually, Kleiman and Laksov, with the apparatus of modern algebraic geometry, resolved the second step, thus reducing the theorem to: Conjecture 3.4 (Severi-Kleiman-Laksov). For g general secants to a rational normal curve in P d, the space of d r 1 planes intersecting each secant is the expected dimension ρ(g, d, r). By Schubert calculus one knows of course that the dimension of d r 1 planes intersecting g general lines is ρ(g, d, r). The challenge is to prove that this is still true if the lines are all secants to a rational normal curve, which is certainly not general. Griffiths and Harris employ a degeneration argument, which I ll outline now and work through in detail next time. The idea is to specialize the secants. More specifically, we 9

10 TONY FENG allow the point p 2 to limit to p 1, and then the point q 2 to limit to q 1. If one can prove that the intersection is transverse in this special situation, then it must be transverse in the general situation. The advantage of this degeneration is that it is easy to reduce the statement to one of smaller complexity, thus opening up an inductive argument. Indeed, as you can see we have reduced from considering g + 1 secants to g secants. But there are some additional conditions that one picks up in the limit process: obviously not every plane passing through g secants can arise as a limit of planes passing through g + 1 secants. The challenge is to identify these extra conditions and show that they are of the right codimension. This will be explored in detail in the second talk. 10

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