# Curvilinear coordinates

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Curvilinear coordinates

In geometry, curvilinear coordinates are a coordinate system for Euclidean space in which the coordinate lines may be curved. These coordinates may be derived from a set of Cartesian coordinates by using a transformation that is locally invertible (a one-to-one map) at each point. This means that one can convert a point given in a Cartesian coordinate system to its curvilinear coordinates and back. The name curvilinear coordinates, coined by the French mathematician Lamé, derives from the fact that the coordinate surfaces of the curvilinear systems are curved. Well-known examples of curvilinear coordinate systems in three-dimensional Euclidean space (R3) are Cartesian, cylindrical and spherical polar coordinates. A Curvilinear, affine, and Cartesian coordinates in two-dimensional space Cartesian coordinate surface in this space is a plane; for example z = 0 defines the x-y plane. In the same space, the coordinate surface r = 1 in spherical polar coordinates is the surface of a unit sphere, which is curved. The formalism of curvilinear coordinates provides a unified and general description of the standard coordinate systems. Curvilinear coordinates are often used to define the location or distribution of physical quantities which may be, for example, scalars, vectors, or tensors. Mathematical expressions involving these quantities in vector calculus and tensor analysis (such as thegradient, divergence, curl, and Laplacian) can be transformed from one coordinate system to another, according to transformation rules for scalars, vectors, and tensors. Such expressions then become valid for any curvilinear coordinate system. Depending on the application, a curvilinear coordinate system may be simpler to use than the Cartesian coordinate system. For instance, a physical problem with spherical symmetry defined in R3 (for example, motion of particles under the influence of central forces) is usually easier to solve in spherical polar coordinates than in Cartesian coordinates. Equations with boundary conditions that follow coordinate surfaces for a particular curvilinear coordinate system may be easier to solve in that system. One would for instance describe the motion of a particle in a rectangular box in Cartesian coordinates, whereas one would prefer spherical coordinates for a particle in a sphere. Spherical coordinates are one of the most used curvilinear coordinate systems in such fields as Earth sciences, cartography, and physics (in particular quantum mechanics, relativity), and engineering.

x2. φ . The relation between the coordinates is given by the invertible transformations:
Fig. 1. φ . q3) are the curvilinear coordinates of the point P. and (q1.Axes: r .straight beams. 1 . which happens to be the case for simple Cartesian coordinates.Coordinate surfaces.half-planes. All bases associated with curvilinear coordinates are necessarily local. as shown in Fig. and can be associated only with linear or affine coordinate systems. coordinate lines.tangents to vertical semicircles.straight beams. coordinate lines. The coordinate axes are determined by the tangents to the coordinate curves at the intersection of three surfaces. or in another system (q1. and vectors
For now. A basis whose vectors change their direction and/or magnitude from point to point is called local basis. Note: usually all basis vectors are denoted by e.Coordinate surfaces. q2 = constant. and coordinate axes of general curvilinear coordinates. y.cones. for this article e is for the standard basis (Cartesian) and b is for the curvilinear basis. q2. q2. and the space curves formed by their intersection in pairs are called the coordinate curves. q3 = constant are called the coordinate surfaces.tangents to horizontal circles
. A point P in 3d space can be defined using Cartesian coordinates (x. They are not in general fixed directions in space.
Any point can be written as a position vector r in Cartesian coordinates:
Fig. The latter is a curvilinear coordinate system. θ vertical semicircles. x3)]. The surfaces q1 = constant. θ . basis.Curvilinear coordinates
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Orthogonal curvilinear coordinates in 3d
Coordinates. Surfaces: r . θ . and coordinate axes of spherical coordinates. q3). Basis vectors that are the same at all points are global bases. Lines: r .spheres. z) [equivalently written (x1.horizontal circles. 2 . φ . consider 3d space.

A discussion of the general case appears later on this page. curvilinear coordinates allow the generality of basis vectors not all mutually perpendicular to each other. it is therefore necessary that they are not assumed to be constant over a region. in a general curvilinear system. and not required to be of unit length: they can be of arbitrary magnitude and direction. However. However. (They technically form a basis for the tangent bundle of at P.) In general. and may also not be orthogonal. ez. z are the coordinates of the position vector with respect to the standard basis vectors ex. require non-orthogonal bases to describe deformations and fluid transport to account for complicated directional dependences of physical quantities.
. we have the property that
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We can apply the same idea to the curvilinear system to determine a system of basis vectors at P. ey. Instead. this designation is very rarely used. In the case that they are orthogonal at all points where the derivatives are well-defined. there may well not be any natural global basis vectors.Curvilinear coordinates where x. We define
These may not have unit length. y. some areas of physics and engineering. The use of an orthogonal basis makes vector manipulations simpler than for non-orthogonal.
Vector calculus
Differential elements Since the total differential change in r is
so scale factors are
They can also be written for each component of r: . we note that in the Cartesian system. largely replaced with the components of the metric tensor gik (see below). particularly fluid mechanics and continuum mechanics. and so are local to P. However. we define the Lamé coefficients (after Gabriel Lamé) by
and the curvilinear orthonormal basis vectors by
It is important to note that these basis vectors may well depend upon the position of P.

Curvilinear coordinates
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Covariant and contravariant bases
The basis vectors. tangent vectors to coordinate curves (black) and• a covector basis or cobasis (blue. e2. the basis vectors are unit normal vectors to the coordinate surfaces:
which transform like contravariant vectors (denoted by raised indices). b2. e2..
. ∇ is the del operator. The basis vectors relate to the components by[](pp30–32)
and
where g is the metric tensor (see below). i. q3). and scale factors are all interrelated within a coordinate system by two methods:
A vector v (red) represented by • a vector basis (yellow. b3} is the covariant basis. the basis vectors are unit tangent vectors along the coordinate curves:
which transform like covariant vectors (denoted by lowered indices). and {b1. right: e1. q2. So depending on the method by which they are built. Note the basis and cobasis do not coincide unless the coordinate system is orthogonal. or 2. normal vectors to coordinate surfaces (grey)in general (not necessarily orthogonal coordinatesorthogonal) curvilinear coordinates (q1.e. e3). A vector v can be given in terms either basis. b3} is the contravariant basis. left: e1. for a general curvilinear coordinate system there are two sets of basis vectors for every point: {b1.
1. e3). b2. gradients.

Note that PA is also the projection of b1 on the x axis. the directional cosines can be substituted in transformations with the more exact ratios between infinitesimally small coordinate intercepts. The local basis vector is b1 and it is built on the q1 axis which is a tangent to that coordinate line at the point P. The axis q1 and thus the vector b1 form an angle α with the Cartesian x axis and the Cartesian basis vector e1. this method for basis vector transformations using directional cosines is inapplicable to curvilinear coordinates for the following reasons: 1. written vk). At the distance PB the true angle is that which the tangent at point C forms with the x axis and the latter angle is clearly different from α. respectively. x is one of the Cartesian coordinates.
Fig.
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Covariant basis
Constructing a covariant basis in one dimension Consider the one-dimensional curve shown in Fig. 2.Curvilinear coordinates A vector is covariant or contravariant if. The angles that the q1 line and that axis form with the x axis become closer in value the closer one moves towards point P and become exactly equal at P. Let the infinitesimally small intercepts PD and PE be labelled. It can be seen from triangle PAB that
where |e1|. At the same time. |b1| are the magnitudes of the two basis vectors. Then PE measured on the q1 axis almost coincides with PE measured on the q1 line. Let point E be located very close to P. A key convention in the representation of vectors and tensors in terms of indexed components and basis vectors is invariance in the sense that vector components which transform in a covariant manner (or contravariant manner) are paired with basis vectors that transform in a contravariant manner (or covariant manner). and q1 is one of the curvilinear coordinates (Fig. 3). Thus. Then . written vk) or contravariant (raised indices. By increasing the distance from P. and covariant vectors are represented with contravariant basis vectors. it can be seen that contravariant vectors are represented with covariant basis vectors. as dx and dq1. It follows that the component (projection) of b1 on the x axis is
.. At point P. 3 – Transformation of local covariant basis in the case of general curvilinear coordinates
However. so close that the distance PE is infinitesimally small. From the above vector sums. the ratio PD/PE (PD being the projection of PE on the x axis) becomes almost exactly equal to cos α. taken as an origin. 3. its components are covariant (lowered indices. respectively. i. the angle between the curved line q1 and Cartesian axis x increasingly deviates from α.e. the scalar intercepts PB and PA.

from linear algebra. one can obtain the inverse transformation from local basis to standard basis:
Jacobian of the transformation The above systems of linear equations can be written in matrix form as . the expanded forms of these matrices are
In the inverse transformation (second equation system). Constructing a covariant basis in three dimensions Doing the same for the coordinates in the other 2 dimensions. and vice versa. a linear equation system has a single solution (non-trivial) only if the determinant of its system matrix is non-zero:
. x2. x3) and xi = xi(q1. For all points there can only exist one and only one set of basis vectors (else vectors are not well defined at those points). In three dimensions. This coefficient matrix of the linear system is the Jacobian matrix (and its inverse) of the transformation. q3) are smooth (continuously differentiable) functions the transformation ratios can be written as and . b3} by the following system of equations:
By analogous reasoning. e2. the unknowns are the curvilinear basis vectors. That is. If qi = qi(x1. These are the equations that can be used to transform a Cartesian basis into a curvilinear basis. b1 can be expressed as:
Similar equations hold for b2 and b3 so that the standard basis {e1. b2. q2. e3} is transformed to a local (ordered and normalised) basis {b1. This condition is satisfied if and only if the equation system has a single solution. those ratios are partial derivatives of coordinates belonging to one system
with respect to coordinates belonging to the other system.Curvilinear coordinates
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.

we can define basis vectors bi so that they depend on q = (q1.
Generalization to n dimensions
The formalism extends to any finite dimension as follows.. Then a vector v in this space.1. They are smooth functions: qi = qi(x) 2. The coordinates of this space can be denoted by: x = (x1. x2. those functions are bijections.. although the sum itself remains the same... that is.... can be expanded as a linear combination in this basis (which simply means to multiply each basis vector ei by a number vi – scalar multiplication):
The vector sum that describes v in the new basis is composed of different vectors... With this simple definition of a curvilinear coordinate system... In which case to define the same point x in terms of this alternative basis: the coordinates with respect to this basis vi also necessarily depend on x also. Since this is a vector (an element of the vector space).. all the results that follow below are simply applications of standard theorems in differential topology. e3 = (0. More generally. Each vector has exactly one component in each dimension (or "axis") and they are mutually orthogonal (perpendicular) and normalized (has unit magnitude).0. 2..Curvilinear coordinates
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which shows the rationale behind the above requirement concerning the inverse Jacobian determinant...e.. they change from point to point: bi = bi(q).. that is Rn = R × R × .[2] Note that two diffeomorphic coordinate patches on a differential manifold need not overlap differentiably.. that is vi = vi(x)..0).0.. The inverse Jacobian determinant
is not zero.1. meaning the transformation is invertible: xi(q).n is an index labelling components. q2.0). The transformation functions are such that there's a one-to-one relationship between points in the "old" and "new" coordinates.0. and fulfil the following requirements within their domains: 1.0).xn).en = (0.... × R (n times) where R is the set of real numbers and × denotes the Cartesian product.[3]
.
Transformation of coordinates
From a more general and abstract perspective..0.qn). with respect to these alternative coordinates and basis vectors.. it can be written as:
where e1 = (1..1) is the standard basis set of vectors for the space Rn.0.. Consider the real Euclidean n-dimensional space.. which is a vector space. i. according to the inverse function theorem. a curvilinear coordinate system is simply a coordinate patch on the differentiable manifold En (n-dimensional Euclidian space) that is diffeomorphic to the Cartesian coordinate patch on the manifold. e2 = (0. The condition that the Jacobian determinant is not zero reflects the fact that three surfaces from different families intersect in one and only one point and thus determine the position of this point in a unique way. and i = 1.0..

[] Basar and Weichert. and Sij the covariant components of the second-order tensor. one can construct a small line element dx. The components of the second-order tensor are related by
The metric tensor in orthogonal curvilinear coordinates
At each point.[]
Tensors in curvilinear coordinates
A second-order tensor can be expressed as where denotes the tensor product. Note also that
where hij are the Lamé coefficients. For an orthogonal basis we also have:
. The components Sij are called the contravariant components. The notation and contents are primarily from Ogden.Curvilinear coordinates
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Vector and tensor algebra in three-dimensional curvilinear coordinates
Note: the Einstein summation convention of summing on repeated indices is used below. Indices can be raised and lowered by the metric:
Relation to Lamé coefficients Defining the scale factors hij by
gives a relation between the metric tensor and the Lamé coefficients.[] Simmonds. for example the text by Green and Zerna.[] Naghdi.[] Green and Zerna.[] Some useful relations in the algebra of vectors and second-order tensors in curvilinear coordinates are given in this section. Elementary vector and tensor algebra in curvilinear coordinates is used in some of the older scientific literature in mechanics and physics and can be indispensable to understanding work from the early and mid 1900s. Si j the mixed right-covariant components. given by:
and the symmetric quantity
is called the fundamental (or metric) tensor of the Euclidean space in curvilinear coordinates. so the square of the length of the line element is the scalar product dx • dx and is called the metric of the space. Si j the mixed left-covariant components.[] and Ciarlet.

Curvilinear coordinates Example: Polar coordinates If we consider polar coordinates for R2. The fundamental tensor is g11 =1. sin θ). The orthogonal basis vectors are br = (cos θ. θ) are the curvilinear coordinates.
The alternating tensor
In an orthonormal right-handed basis. g12 = g21 =0. r cos θ). The normalized basis vectors are er = (cos θ. r sin θ) is r. cos θ) and the scale factors are hr = 1 and hθ= r. the third-order alternating tensor is defined as
In a general curvilinear basis the same tensor may be expressed as
It can also be shown that
Christoffel symbols
Christoffel symbols of the first kind
where the comma denotes a partial derivative (see Ricci calculus). sin θ). eθ = (−sin θ. note that
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(r.θ) → (r cos θ. g22 =r2. and the Jacobian determinant of the transformation (r. To express Γijk in terms of gij we note that
Since
using these to rearrange the above relations gives
Christoffel symbols of the second kind
This implies that
Other relations that follow are
. bθ = (−r sin θ.

Using the above result. λ2. Some useful relations in the calculus of vectors and second-order tensors in curvilinear coordinates are given in this section..
. and Levi-Civita.Curvilinear coordinates
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Vector operations
1. Cross product: The cross product of two vectors is given by[](pp32–34) where is the permutation symbol and is a Cartesian basis vector. the same arguments apply for n-dimensional spaces. λ2) parametrizes a surface S in Cartesian coordinates. then the following cross product of tangent vectors is a normal vector to S with the magnitude of infinitesimal plane element. it represents a genuine triumph of the method of absolute differential calculus. However.[] in the mechanics of curved shells. and that for the metric gij = 0 when i ≠ j.
Vector and tensor calculus in three-dimensional curvilinear coordinates
Note: the Einstein summation convention of summing on repeated indices is used below. the
equivalent expression is where is the third-order alternating tensor. Simmonds. then
is a tangent vector to C in curvilinear coordinates (using the chain rule).[] in his book on tensor analysis. Riemann.[] Basar and Weichert.. quotes Albert Einstein saying[] The magic of this theory will hardly fail to impose itself on anybody who has truly understood it. the following restricts to three dimensions and orthogonal curvilinear coordinates.[] in examining the invariance properties of Maxwell's equations which has been of interest in metamaterials[][] and in many other fields. in curvilinear coordinates. For simplicity. Tangent plane element: If x(λ1. Dot product: The scalar product of two vectors in curvilinear coordinates is[](p32) 2. Adjustments need to be made in the calculation of line. In curvilinear coordinates. surface and volume integrals. Vector and tensor calculus in general curvilinear coordinates is used in tensor analysis on four-dimensional curvilinear manifolds in general relativity. When the coordinate system is not orthogonal. the magnitude is:
2.[] and Ciarlet.[] Green and Zerna. founded by Gauss. Using the definition of the Lamé coefficients. be parameters of the coordinates
Geometric elements
1. Tangent vector: If x(λ) parametrizes a curve C in Cartesian coordinates. Ricci. The notation and contents are primarily from Ogden. there are some additional terms in the expressions.[] Let φ = φ(x) be a well defined scalar field and v = v(x) a well-defined vector field. and λ1.[4] Simmonds.

All the algebraic relations between the basis vectors.Curvilinear coordinates where is the permutation symbol. This basis. In determinant form:
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Integration
Operator Line integral Surface integral Volume integral Scalar field Vector field
Differentiation
The expressions for the gradient. however the curl is only defined in 3d.
Operator Gradient Scalar field Vector field 2nd order tensor field
Divergence N/A
where a is an arbitrary constant vector. In curvilinear coordinates. as discussed in the section on tensor algebra. bi. divergence. apply for the natural basis and its reciprocal at each point x. We can also define a reciprocal basis. is also called the covariant curvilinear basis. as discussed at the beginning of this article. The vector field bi is tangent to the qi coordinate curve and forms a natural basis at each point on the curve. or contravariant curvilinear basis.
.
N/A
where
is the Levi-Civita symbol. and Laplacian can be directly extended to n-dimensions.
Laplacian
Curl
N/A
For vector fields in 3d only.

R. George (1995).edu/~brannon/public/ curvilinear.[6] The component of any such fictitious force normal to the path of the particle and in the plane of the path’s curvature is then called centrifugal force. x3.html) • MathWorld's page on Curvilinear Coordinates (http://mathworld. Brannon's E-Book on Curvilinear Coordinates (http://www.[5] In this context. Thus the centrifugal force is mr times the square of the absolute rotational speed A = w + W of the particle. Hence these are really just two different ways of describing exactly the same thing. • Arfken.[7] This more general context makes clear the correspondence between the concepts of centrifugal force in rotating coordinate systems and in stationary curvilinear coordinate systems. ISBN 0-12-059877-9. a coordinate system can fail to be “inertial” either due to non-straight time axis or non-straight space axes (or both). or both.html) • Prof.mech.Curvilinear coordinates
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Fictitious forces in general curvilinear coordinates
An inertial coordinate system is defined as a system of space and time coordinates x1. one description being in terms of rotating coordinates and the other being in terms of stationary curvilinear coordinates.pdf) • (http://en. consider a particle of mass m moving in a circle of radius r with angular speed w relative to a system of polar coordinates rotating with angular speed W. in which case the centrifugal force is again mrA2. This is true regardless of whether the motion is described in terms of stationary or rotating coordinates. the basis vectors of the coordinates may vary in time at fixed positions. R. (Both of these concepts appear frequently in the literature. the actual forces acting on a particle are often referred to the instantaneous osculating circle tangent to the path of motion. When describing general motion. In other words. called Christoffel symbols.
External links
• Derivation of Unit Vectors in Curvilinear Coordinates (http://planetmath. The radial equation of motion is mr” = Fr + mr(w + W)2. Mathematical Methods for Physicists.utah. The reason for this equality of results is that in both cases the basis vectors at the particle’s location are changing in time in exactly the same way. x2. or they may vary with position at fixed times.wolfram. both of which are non-inertial according to the more abstract meaning of that term.com/CurvilinearCoordinates. Strictly speaking. M. New York: Schaum's Outline Series. Introduction to Elasticity/Tensors. Vector Analysis. (1959). If we choose a coordinate system rotating at the speed of the particle. then W = A and w = 0. When equations of motion are expressed in terms of any non-inertial coordinate system (in this sense).
. ISBN 0-07-084378-3. but we may also choose to continue to regard d2xj/dt2 as the acceleration (as if the coordinates were inertial) and treat the extra terms as if they were forces. these terms represent components of the absolute acceleration (in classical mechanics).
References
Notes
[4] Ogden
Further reading • Spiegel.org/wiki/Introduction_to_Elasticity/Tensors#The_divergence_of_a_tensor_field) – Wikiversity.[8][9][10]) For a simple example. t in terms of which the equations of motion of a particle free of external forces are simply d2xj/dt2 = 0. in which case they are called fictitious forces.wikiversity.org/ DerivationOfUnitVectorsInCurvilinearCoordinates. and this circle in the general case is not centered at a fixed location. and so the decomposition into centrifugal and Coriolis components is constantly changing. Academic Press. in which case the centrifugal force is mrA2. whereas if we choose a stationary coordinate system we have W = 0 and w = A. extra terms appear.

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