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In vector calculus, divergence is a vector operator that measures the magnitude of a vector field's source or sink at a given point, in terms of a signed scalar. More technically, the divergence represents the volume density of the outward flux of a vector field from an infinitesimal volume around a given point. For example, consider air as it is heated or cooled. The relevant vector field for this example is the velocity of the moving air at a point. If air is heated in a region it will expand in all directions such that the velocity field points outward from that region. Therefore the divergence of the velocity field in that region would have a positive value, as the region is a source. If the air cools and contracts, the divergence is negative and the region is called a sink.


Definition of divergence

In physical terms, the divergence of a three dimensional vector field is the extent to which the vector field flow behaves like a source or a sink at a given point. It is a local measure of its "outgoingness"—the extent to which there is more exiting an infinitesimal region of space than entering it. If the divergence is nonzero at some point then there must be a source or sink at that position[1]. (Note that we are imagining the vector field to be like the velocity vector field of a fluid (in motion) when we use the terms flow, sink and so on.)

More rigorously, the divergence of a vector field F at a point p is defined as the limit of the net flow of F across the smooth boundary of a three dimensional region V divided by the volume of V as V shrinks to p. Formally,

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