Let be a regular local (noetherian) ring of dimension . In the previous post, we described loosely the *local cohomology* functors

(in fact, described them in three different ways), and proved a fundamental duality theorem

Here is the Matlis duality functor , for an injective envelope of the residue field . This was stated initially as a result in the derived category, but we are going to use the above form.

The duality can be rewritten in a manner analogous to Serre duality. We have that (in fact, this could be taken as a definition of ). For any , there is a Yoneda pairing

and the local duality theorem states that it is a perfect pairing.

**Example 1** Let be an algebraically closed field, and suppose that is the local ring of a closed point on a smooth -variety . Then we can take for the module

in other words, the module of -linear distributions (supported at that point). To see this, note that defines a duality functor on the category of finite length -modules, and any such duality functor is unique. The associated representing object for this duality functor is precisely .

In this case, we can think intuitively of as the cohomology

These can be represented by meromorphic -forms defined near ; any such defines a distribution by sending a function defined near to . I’m not sure to what extent one can write an actual comparison theorem with the complex case.

**1. Grothendieck’s theorem**

Our goal is to apply local duality to commutative algebra. Recall the result from last time.

Theorem 8 (Grothendieck)Let be a local ring (not necessarily regular) and let be a finitely generated -module. Then

and the values at the two endpoints are non-zero.

In the previous post, we gave three different proofs of the vanishing beyond . Our next goal is to show that

Here the local duality result will be essential.

Let’s start by assuming that is regular. Then we saw that . So, we are reduced to showing that

In fact, the Matlis dual of *any *nonzero module is never zero, so this will suffice. We can prove this non-vanishing using the story that connects depth to . I’ll only state the main result:

Proposition 9 (Depth and Ext)Let be a noetherian ring and a finitely generated module. Then, for finitely generated, the first non-vanishing group

occurs when is equal to the length of a maximal regular sequence on in .

For example, given an ideal , we can test the depth of on by figuring out the first place at which ; we could also replace with , or anything supported exactly on the set cut out by .

Let’s return to the assertion that we were trying to prove: for regular of dimension , and any finitely generated -module, we had

This now follows because is supported on the subscheme of cut out by , which has height . But the *depth *of on the module is precisely , because is a regular (in particular, Cohen-Macaulay) ring, which means that its depth with respect to any ideal is precisely the codimension of that ideal. So not only do we get that , but that this is the smallest such group which is nonzero: that corresponds to the fact that the local cohomology is nonzero at and zero beyond that.

We have now proved our goal, that , when is regular. The general case can now be handled by a trick described in the previous post: we can replace by its completion (which doesn’t change either local cohomology or dimensions), and then replace by a complete *regular* local ring which surjects onto it. Again, we have to use the fact that a complete local ring is a quotient of a complete regular local ring.

** 2. The other half of Grothendieck’s theorem **

We’ve now handled the difficult parts of Grothendieck’s vanishing/non-vanishing theorem. We’ve shown that

while . The other half states that

and there is a similar non-vanishing at . This doesn’t require anything as fancy as local duality to prove: in fact, we use the interpretation of as a colimit of groups. Our original definition, in fact, was

Using the general result (mentioned above) connecting groups to depth, one can see that these groups vanish for . Moreover, all the groups in the colimit are nonzero for , and the connecting maps are injections (by the long exact sequence). It follows that we get both the vanishing and the non-vanishing.

** 3. An application **

Let’s apply the abstract theory developed in the past couple of posts to the following concrete problem: How many equations does it take to define a variety?

Given a variety , it takes at least equations to cut out : this follows from the fact that cutting with a hyperplane can drop the dimension by at most one. That is, if is an affine variety and a hypersurface, then is either empty or has dimension one less than . This is a geometric version of Krull’s principal ideal theorem.

However, in general, a variety may need more equations to cut it out. Local cohomology is a relevant tool here. We are going to see that the union of two skew lines in , for instance, is not cut out set-theoretically by two equations. Alternatively, the ideal

is not generated up to radical by two polynomials. How can we prove this? We will show that

whereas if were generated up to radical by two elements, the Koszul-type complex which defines would show that this group would have to vanish. Our goal is thus to compute the local cohomology of this ideal , which geometrically corresponds to two planes in 4-space meeting at a point. We will use a Mayer-Vietoris sequence to reduce this to a simpler computation.

**4. The Mayer-Vietoris sequence**

If is any topological space and a closed subset, we can define functors

which are the derived functors of “sections with supports on .” When and is cut out by an ideal , then for quasi-coherent sheaves,

and we can write these functors as .

The relevant observation here, which is easier to see from the geometric viewpoint than the algebraic one, is that there is a natural *Mayer-Vietoris sequence*. Namely, let be a space as above, and closed subspaces. There is a natural long exact sequence

precisely analogous to the Mayer-Vietoris sequence in topology. The sequence arises because a section supported on certainly defines a section supported on , and a section supported on .

If we translate this into algebraic language, we find that if , then there is a long exact sequence

natural in the -module .

**5. Hartshorne’s example**

Let’s now apply the Mayer-Vietoris sequence to show that a certain local cohomology group doesn’t vanish, and that the union of two skew-lines in is not cut out by two equations.

**Example 2 (Hartshorne)** Let and take the two ideals . In other words, take affine 4-space, and take for subvarieties two planes meeting only at the origin. Then we have a sequence

corresponding to the cohomologies of the individual planes, their intersection, and their union. Since are cut out by two equations, the Koszul complexes defining exist only in degrees , and the extreme points of the four-term exact sequence vanish. Since has codimension zero, Grothendieck’s non-vanishing theorem implies that —one localizes at the origin. It follows that

which means that cannot be cut out by two equations.

To be fair, we didn’t need Grothendieck’s non-vanishing theorem to assert that : it is given by a Koszul complex (more or less the same Koszul complex which computes the cohomology of projective space, and by no coincidence), which can be evaluated explicitly. The main point of the above argument is the following. For an ideal , we can define the **arithmetic rank**

to be the number of elements generating up to radical (i.e., the number of equations needed to cut out set-theoretically). We have then that

and we can use this to get a lower bound on . That was precisely the approach of the above argument. More generally, one can apply it to the union of two set-theoretic complete intersections meeting at a single point.

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