Riemann surface

In mathematics, particularly in complex analysis, a Riemann surface is a one-dimensional complex manifold. Riemann surfaces can be thought of as "deformed versions" of the complex plane: locally near every point they look like patches of the complex plane, but the global topology can be quite different. For example, they can look like a sphere or a torus or a couple of sheets glued together.

The main point of Riemann surfaces is that holomorphic functions may be defined between them. Riemann surfaces are nowadays considered the natural setting for studying the global behavior of these functions, especially multi-valued functions such as the square root or the logarithm.

Every Riemann surface is a two-dimensional real analytic manifold (i.e. a surface), but it contains more structure (specifically a complex structure) which is needed for the unambiguous definition of holomorphic functions. A two-dimensional real manifold can be turned into a Riemann surface (usually in several inequivalent ways) if and only if it is orientable. So the sphere and torus admit complex structures, but the Möbius strip, Klein bottle and projective plane do not.

Geometrical facts about Riemann surfaces are as "nice" as possible, and they often provide the intuition and motivation for generalizations to other curves, manifolds or varieties. The Riemann-Roch theorem is a prime example of this influence.


Formal definition

Let X be a Hausdorff space. A homeomorphism from an open subset UX to a subset of C is called a chart. Two charts f and g whose domains intersect are said to be compatible if the maps f o g-1 and g o f-1 are holomorphic over their domains. If A is a collection of compatible charts and if any x in X is in the domain of some f in A, then we say that A is an atlas. When we endow X with an atlas A, we say that (X, A) is a Riemann surface. If the atlas is understood, we simply say that X is a Riemann surface.

Different atlases can give rise to essentially the same Riemann surface structure on X; to avoid this ambiguity, one sometimes demands that the given atlas on X be maximal, in the sense that it is not contained in any other atlas. Every atlas A is contained in a unique maximal one by Zorn's lemma.


  • The complex plane C is perhaps the most trivial Riemann surface. The map f(z) = z (the identity map) defines a chart for C, and {f} is an atlas for C. The map g(z) = z* (the conjugate map) also defines a chart on C and {g} is an atlas for C. The charts f and g are not compatible, so this endows C with two distinct Riemann surface structures. In fact, given a Riemann surface X and its atlas A, the conjugate atlas B = {f* : f ∈ A} is never compatible with A, and endows X with a distinct, incompatible Riemann structure.
  • In an analogous fashion, every open subset of the complex plane can be viewed as a Riemann surface in a natural way. More generally, every open subset of a Riemann surface is a Riemann surface.
  • Let S = C ∪ {∞} and let f(z) = z where z is in S \ {∞} and g(z) = 1 / z where z is in S \ {0} and 1/∞ is defined to be 0. Then f and g are charts, they are compatible, and { f, g } is an atlas for S, making S into a Riemann surface. This particular surface is called the Riemann sphere because it can be interpreted as wrapping the complex plane around the sphere. Unlike the complex plane, it is compact.
  • The theory of compact Riemann surfaces can be shown to be equivalent to that of algebraic curves that are defined over the complex numbers and non-singular. Important examples of non-compact Riemann surfaces are provided by analytic continuation (see below.)

Properties and further definitions

A function f : MN between two Riemann surfaces M and N is called holomorphic if for every chart g in the atlas of M and every chart h in the atlas of N, the map h o f o g-1 is holomorphic (as a function from C to C) wherever it is defined. The composition of two holomorphic maps is holomorphic. The two Riemann surfaces M and N are called conformally equivalent if there exists a bijective holomorphic function from M to N whose inverse is also holomorphic (it turns out that the latter condition is automatic and can therefore be omitted). Two conformally equivalent Riemann surfaces are for all practical purposes identical.

Every simply connected Riemann surface is conformally equivalent to C or to the Riemann sphere C ∪ {∞} or to the open disk {zC : |z| < 1}. This statement is known as the uniformization theorem.

Every connected Riemann surface can be turned into a complete 2-dimensional real Riemannian manifold with constant curvature -1, 0 or 1. This Riemann structure is unique up to scalings of the metric. The Riemann surfaces with curvature -1 are called hyperbolic; the open disk is the canonical example. The Riemann surfaces with curvature 0 are called parabolic; C is a typical parabolic Riemann surface. Finally, the surfaces with curvature +1 are known as elliptic; the Riemann sphere C ∪ {∞} is an example.

For every closed parabolic Riemann surface, the fundamental group is isomorphic to a rank 2 lattice group, and thus the surface can be constructed as C/Γ, where C is the complex plane and Γ is the lattice group. The set of representatives of the cosets are called fundamental domains.

Similarly, for every hyperbolic Riemann surface, the fundamental group is isomorphic to a Fuchsian group, and thus the surface can be modelled by a Fuchsian model H/Γ where H is the upper half-plane and Γ is the Fuchsian group. The set of representatives of the cosets of H/Γ are free regular sets and can be fashioned into metric fundamental polygons.

When a hyperbolic surface is compact, then the total area of the surface is <math>4\pi(g-1)<math>, where g is the genus of the surface; the area is obtained by applying the Gauss-Bonnet theorem to the area of the fundamental polygon.

We noted in the preamble that all Riemann surfaces, like all complex manifolds, are orientable as a real manifold. The reason is that for complex charts f and g with transition function h = f(g-1(z)) we can consider h as a map from an open set of R2 to R2 whose Jacobian in a point z is just the real linear map given by multiplication by the complex number h'(z). However, the real determinant of multiplication by a complex number α equals |α|^2, so the Jacobian of h has positive determinant. Consequently the complex atlas is an oriented atlas.


Riemann surfaces were first studied by Bernhard Riemann and were named after him.

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