# Does harmonic map heat flow of a curve always fully converge to a geodesic?

Consider a smooth closed curve $$u_0$$ in a compact Riemannian manifold $$(M,g)$$. Let $$u_0$$ evolve by harmonic map heat flow, $$\partial_tu=\nabla_{\partial_su}\partial_su$$, and call the result $$u(t)$$.

Since the circle is 1-dimensional, a miracle happens and we get a gradient estimate for free, so the flow exists for all time. By standard arguments, there is a sequence $$t_k\to\infty$$ such that $$u(t_k)$$ converges to a geodesic $$u_\infty$$ in the $$C^\infty$$ topology. Furthermore, one can see that $$u_\infty$$ is homotopic to $$u_0$$ because $$u(t_k)$$ is eventually within a small enough neighborhood of $$u_\infty$$. However, what's not clear to me is if the flow provides this homotopy.

That is, does $$\lim_{t\to\infty}u(t)=u_\infty$$ in the $$C^\infty$$ topology, not just up to a subsequence?

Hartman has proved this when $$M$$ has nonpositive sectional curvature for general harmonic maps with bounded image. I'm wondering if this is true for curves without a curvature assumption on the target.

• I guess you mean that $u_0$ is not homotopically trivial, right? Oct 3 '18 at 9:12
• @BenoîtKloeckner If it's not, then it could shrink to a point. However, it is easy to construct an example where $u_0$ is homotopically nontrivial but converges to a geodesic with positive length. (Think of a dumbbell.) Oct 3 '18 at 13:07
• I did not meant that $u_0$ not being homotopically trivial was a necessary condition for the convergence of a subsequence toward a geodesic, but that the later does not hold unconditionally. It seems we agree on this, so that I guess you want to make some assumption on $u_0$. Oct 3 '18 at 14:47
• According to Råde (in his Yang-Mills heat equation paper), when $(M,g)$ is real analytic this can be derived from Leon Simon's 83 paper jstor.org/stable/2006981?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents // incidentally, a related question has been asked before: mathoverflow.net/questions/134930/… Oct 4 '18 at 14:27

However, using Topping's construction in Section 5 of Rigidity in the Harmonic Map Heat Flow (note Remark 6 which states that the construction is essentially independent of the dimension of the domain), one concludes that, in general, the convergence really is only up to subsequence: the flow can fail to converge even in $$C^0$$.