Divergence in lattices in semisimple lie groups and graphs of groups

Cornelia Drutu*, Shahar Mozes, Mark Sapir

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

67 Scopus citations


Divergence functions of a metric space estimate the length of a path connecting two points A, B at distance ≤ n avoiding a large enough ball around a third point C. We characterize groups with non-linear divergence functions as groups having cut-points in their asymptotic cones. That property is weaker than the property of having Morse (rank 1) quasi-geodesics. Using our characterization of Morse quasi-geodesics, we give a new proof of the theorem of Farb-Kaimanovich-Masur that states that mapping class groups cannot contain copies of irreducible lattices in semi-simple Lie groups of higher ranks. It also gives a generalization of the result of Birman-Lubotzky-McCarthy about solvable subgroups of mapping class groups not covered by the Tits alternative of Ivanov and McCarthy. We show that any group acting acylindrically on a simplicial tree or a locally compact hyperbolic graph always has "many" periodic Morse quasi- geodesics (i.e. Morse elements), so its divergence functions are never linear. We also show that the same result holds in many cases when the hyperbolic graph satisfies Bowditch's properties that are weaker than local compactness. This gives a new proof of Behrstock's result that every pseudo-Anosov element in a mapping class group is Morse. On the other hand, we conjecture that lattices in semi-simple Lie groups of higher rank always have linear divergence. We prove it in the case when the ℚ-rank is 1 and when the lattice is SLn(Os)where n ≥ 3, S is a finite set of valuations of a number field K including all infinite valuations, and O s is the corresponding ring of S-integers.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)2451-2505
Number of pages55
JournalTransactions of the American Mathematical Society
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2010


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