Let be a smooth projective variety, and let be a generic hyperplane. For generic enough , the intersection is itself a smooth projective variety of dimension one less. The **Lefschetz hyperplane theorem** asserts that the map

induces an isomorphism on , if .

We might be interested in analog over any field, possibly of characteristic . Here has to be replaced with its étale analog, but otherwise it is a theorem of Grothendieck that still induces an isomorphism on , under the same hypotheses. This is one of the main results of SGA 2, and it uses the local cohomology machinery developed there. One of my goals in the next few posts is to understand some of the ideas that go into Grothendieck’s argument.

More generally, suppose is a subvariety. To say that (always in the étale sense) is to say that there is an equivalence of categories

between étale covers of and étale covers of . How might one prove such a result? Grothendieck’s strategy is to attack this problem in three stages:

- Compare to , where is a neighborhood of in .
- Compare to , where is the formal completion of along (i.e., the inductive limit of the infinitesimal thickenings of ).
- Compare and .

In other words, to go from to , one first passes to the formal completion along , then to an open neighborhood, and then to all of . The third step is the easiest: it is the topological invariance of the étale site. The second step is technical. In this post, we’ll only say something about the first step.

The idea behind the first step is that, if is not too small, the passage from to will involve adding only subvarieties of codimension , and these will unaffect the category of étale covers. There are various “purity” theorems to this effect.

The goal of this post is to sketch Grothendieck’s proof of the following result of Zariski and Nagata.

Theorem 10 (Purity in dimension two)Let be a regular local ring of dimension , and let . Then the map

is an equivalence of categories.

In other words, “puncturing” the spectrum of a regular local ring does not affect the fundamental group.

**1. The discriminant argument**

The purity theorem is valid more generally for a regular local ring of dimension , or a complete intersection of dimension . Let’s start with the present case, and let’s start with a weaker question of surjectivity: any étale cover of extends to an étale cover of . Suppose given which is finite étale. Alternatively, the data of is equivalent to that of a vector bundle of algebras over , such that after base-change to any geometric point the associated algebra is a product of copies of . We’d like to extend this to .

The first thing we need to do, to prove the purity theorem, is to extend to an étale cover of , is to extend it as a *finite flat* cover, and then check that it is étale. Actually, that is all we need to do. If we can find a finite flat cover (corresponding to a vector bundle over of algebras) which extends , it is automatically étale.

The justification is that étaleness can be tested on geometric points (once you know flatness), and so étaleness is equivalent to the invertibility of the discriminant of the form . The locus of étaleness of is thus precisely the complement of one equation: it’s . However, since has dimension two, cannot vanish only on : in other words, since is étale outside of the point , it is forced to be étale everywhere.

**2. Extending a vector bundle**

So, in effect, we have reduced our problem to extending the vector bundle (of algebras) over the punctured spectrum to all of . A natural candidate for this is just to take the push-forward

Let’s pretend that we knew this was a coherent sheaf; we don’t yet. Once we know that it is a coherent sheaf, the claim is that it is automatically locally free. In other words, we have to show that (where is projective dimension)

or that is a free -module. The strategy is to show this using the Auslander-Buchsbaum formula relating projective dimension to depth, and Serre’s criterion to bound below the depth. (Another way is to use a theorem of Horrocks that any vector bundle on the punctured spectrum of a two-dimensional regular local ring is trivial, and to use the fact that .)

Since (by étaleness) is a sheaf of normal domains, so is . In particular,

is a normal domain of dimension two, finite over the local ring . By Serre’s criterion, we find that

(e.g., we can calculate at any closed point)—equivalently, the depth of on the -module is two. The Auslander-Buchsbaum formula gives

as is regular. From this, we get that is forced to be zero. In particular, is a vector bundle of algebras. We can make this argument once we know that is coherent.

** 3. Full faithfulness**

Let’s next describe full faithfulness of the pull-back functor . In fact, we have a more general claim on the level of vector bundles; recall that an étale cover corresponds to a special type of vector bundle with an algebra structure.

Proposition 11Let be a regular local ring of dimension . Let as above. Then the pull-back functor

is fully faithful.

In other words, we have to show that if are vector bundles over , then

is an isomorphism. This is a special case of a more general claim: if is a vector bundle on , then

is an isomorphism of sheaves on . (In other words, we take .)

It follows that we have encountered, in trying to prove the purity theorem, two natural questions:

- Given a sheaf on , when is the morphism an isomorphism?
- Given a sheaf on , when is a coherent sheaf on (rather than merely quasi-coherent)?

The claim is that local cohomology allows us to give answers to both questions, and that these answers are in the affirmative in this particular case. The key fact is that, given any topological space and a closed subset , , we have an exact sequence

where are versions of the local-cohomology functors which take values in sheaves and . In our particular case, we are going to get, for any -module , an exact sequence

Using this exact sequence, we will get criterion for when is finitely generated, and when the map is an isomorphism.

I should mention in this case (dimension two) that one has more. For a regular local ring of dimension two, there is an equivalence of categories between vector bundles on and vector bundles on the punctured spectrum, by a theorem of Horrocks; consequently one doesn’t have to invoke anything more to get the purity result. I’ll try to get back to this in a later post.

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