A vector field that has zero divergence everywhere is called solenoidal.
Although expressed in terms of coordinates, the result is invariant under orthogonal transformations, as the physical interpretation suggests.
The common notation for the divergence ∇·F is a convenient mnemonic, where the dot denotes an operation reminiscent of the dot product: take the components of ∇ (see del), apply them to the components of F, and sum the results. As a result, this is considered an abuse of notation.
In physical terms, the divergence of a three dimensional vector field is the extent to which the vector field flow behaves like a source or a sink at a given point. It is a local measure of its "outgoingness"—the extent to which there is more exiting an infinitesimal region of space than entering it. If the divergence is nonzero at some point then there must be a source or sink at that position.
An alternative but equivalent definition, gives the divergence as the derivative of the net flow of the vector field across the surface of a small sphere relative to the volume of the sphere. (Note that we are imagining the vector field to be like the velocity vector field of a fluid (in motion) when we use the terms flow, sink and so on.) Formally,
where S(r) denotes the sphere of radius r about a point p in R3, and the integral is a surface integral taken with respect to n, the normal to that sphere.
Instead of a sphere, any other volume is possible, if instead of one writes From this definition it also becomes explicitly visible that can be seen as the source density of the flux
In light of the physical interpretation, a vector field with constant zero divergence is called incompressible – in this case, no net flow can occur across any closed surface.
The intuition that the sum of all sources minus the sum of all sinks should give the net flow outwards of a region is made precise by the divergence theorem.
For the irrotational part one has
The source-free part, , can be similarly written: one only has to replace the scalar potential by a vector potential and the terms by , and finally the source-density by the circulation-density
This "decomposition theorem" is in fact a by-product of the stationary case of electrodynamics. It is a special case of the more general Helmholtz decomposition which works in dimensions greater than three as well.
for all vector fields F and G and all real numbers a and b.
There is a product rule of the following type: if φ is a scalar valued function and F is a vector field, then
or in more suggestive notation
The divergence of the curl of any vector field (in three dimensions) is constant and equal to zero. If a vector field F with zero divergence is defined on a ball in R3, then there exists some vector field G on the ball with F = curl(G). For regions in R3 more complicated than balls, this latter statement might be false (see Poincaré lemma). The degree of failure of the truth of the statement, measured by the homology of the chain complex
(where the first map is the gradient, the second is the curl, the third is the divergence) serves as a nice quantification of the complicatedness of the underlying region U. These are the beginnings and main motivations of de Rham cohomology.
See also Hodge star operator.
The divergence of a vector field can be defined in any number of dimensions. If
For any n, the divergence is a linear operator, and it satisfies the "product rule"
for any scalar-valued function φ.
The divergence can be defined on any manifold of dimension n with a volume form (or density) e.g. a Riemannian or Lorentzian manifold. Generalising the construction of a two form for a vectorfield on , on such a manifold a vectorfield X defines a n-1 form obtained by contracting X with . The divergence is then the function defined by
Standard formulas for the Lie derivative allow us to reformulate this as
This means that the divergence measures the rate of expansion of a volume element as we let it flow with the vectorfield.
On a Riemannian or Lorentzian manifold the divergence with respect to the metric volume form can be computed in terms of the Levi Civita connection
where the second expression is the contraction of the vectorfield valued 1 -form with itself and the last expression is the traditional coordinate expression used by physicists.