AskDefine | Define foliation

Dictionary Definition



1 (botany) the process of forming leaves [syn: leafing]
2 (geology) the arrangement of leaflike layers in a rock
3 (architecture) leaf-like architectural ornament [syn: foliage]
4 the production of foil by cutting or beating metal into thin leaves
5 the work of coating glass with metal foil

User Contributed Dictionary




  1. The process of forming into a leaf or leaves.
  2. The manner in which the young leaves are disposed within the bud.
  3. The act of beating a metal into a thin plate, leaf, foil, or lamina.
  4. The act of coating with an amalgam of tin foil and quicksilver, as in making looking-glasses.
  5. The enrichment of an opening by means of foils, arranged in trefoils, quatrefoils, etc.; also, one of the ornaments.
  6. The property, possessed by some crystalline rocks, of dividing into plates or slabs, which is due to the cleavage structure of one of the constituents, as mica or hornblende. It may sometimes include slaty structure or cleavage, though the latter is usually independent of any mineral constituent, and transverse to the bedding, it having been produced by pressure.
  7. A set of submanifolds of a given manifold, each of which is of lower dimension than it, but which, taken together, are coextensive with it.


topology: a set of subspaces coextensive with a manifold
  • Chinese: 叶层结构 (yè céng jiégòu)
  • French: foliation, feuilletage
  • German: Blätterung
  • Portuguese: folheação, folheações
  • Russian: листоватость
  • Spanish: foliación

Extensive Definition

In mathematics, a foliation is a geometric device used to study manifolds. Informally speaking, a foliation is a kind of "clothing" worn on a manifold, cut from a striped fabric. On each sufficiently small piece of the manifold, these stripes give the manifold a local product structure. This product structure does not have to be consistent outside local patches (i.e., well-defined globally): a stripe followed around long enough might return to a different, nearby stripe.


More formally, a dimension p foliation F of an n-dimensional manifold M is a covering by charts U_i together with maps
\phi_i:U_i \to \R^n
such that on the overlaps U_i \cap U_j the transition functions \varphi_:\mathbb^n\to\mathbb^n defined by
\varphi_ =\phi_j \phi_i^
take the form
\varphi_(x,y) = (\varphi_^1(x),\varphi_^2(x,y))
where x denotes the first n-p co-ordinates, and y denotes the last p co-ordinates. That is,
In the chart U_i, the stripes x= constant match up with the stripes on other charts U_j. Technically, these stripes are called plaques of the foliation. In each chart, the plaques are n-p dimensional submanifolds. These submanifolds piece together from chart to chart to form maximal connected injectively immersed submanifolds called the leaves of the foliation.
If we shrink the chart U_i it can be written in the form U_\times U_ where U_\subset\mathbb^ and U_\subset\mathbb^p and U_ is isomorphic to the plaques and the points of U_ parametrize the plaques in U_i. If we pick a y_0\in U_, U_\times\ is a submanifold of U_i that intersects every plaque exactly once. This is called a local transversal section of the foliation. Note that due to monodromy there might not exist global transversal sections of the foliation.


Flat space

Consider an n-dimensional space, foliated as a product by subspaces consisting of points whose first n-p co-ordinates are constant. This can be covered with a single chart. The statement is essentially that
\mathbb^n=\mathbb^\times \mathbb^
with the leaves or plaques \mathbb^ being enumerated by \mathbb^. The analogy is seen directly in three dimensions, by taking n=3 and p=1: the two-dimensional leaves of a book are enumerated by a (one-dimensional) page number.


If M \to N is a covering between manifolds, and F is a foliation on N, then it pulls back to a foliation on M. More generally, if the map is merely a branched covering, where the branch locus is transverse to the foliation, then the foliation can be pulled back.


If M^n \to N^q (where q \leq n ) is a submersion of manifolds, it follows from the inverse function theorem that the connected components of the fibers of the submersion define a codimension q foliation of M . Fiber bundles are an example of this type.

Lie groups

If G is a Lie group, and H is a subgroup obtained by exponentiating a closed subalgebra of the Lie algebra of G, then G is foliated by cosets of H.

Lie group actions

Let G be a Lie group acting smoothly on a manifold M . If the action is a locally free action or free action, then the orbits of G define a foliation of M .

Foliations and integrability

There is a close relationship, assuming everything is smooth, with vector fields: given a vector field X on M that is never zero, its integral curves will give a 1-dimensional foliation. (i.e. a codimension n-1 foliation).
This observation generalises to a theorem of Ferdinand Georg Frobenius (the Frobenius theorem), saying that the necessary and sufficient conditions for a distribution (i.e. an n-p dimensional subbundle of the tangent bundle of a manifold) to be tangent to the leaves of a foliation, are that the set of vector fields tangent to the distribution are closed under Lie bracket. One can also phrase this differently, as a question of reduction of the structure group of the tangent bundle from GL(n) to a reducible subgroup.
The conditions in the Frobenius theorem appear as integrability conditions; and the assertion is that if those are fulfilled the reduction can take place because local transition functions with the required block structure exist.
There is a global foliation theory, because topological constraints exist. For example in the surface case, an everywhere non-zero vector field can exist on an orientable compact surface only for the torus. This is a consequence of the Poincaré-Hopf index theorem, which shows the Euler characteristic will have to be 0.


  • Lawson, H. Blaine, "Foliations"
  • I.Moerdijk, J. Mrčun: Introduction to Foliations and Lie groupoids, Cambridge University Press 2003, ISBN 0521831970 (with proofs)
foliation in German: Blätterung
foliation in Spanish: Foliación
foliation in Chinese: 叶层结构

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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