Geometry of the Complex of Curves II: Hierarchical structure.

Howard Masur and Yair Minsky


This paper continues a geometric study of Harvey's Complex of Curves, whose ultimate goal is to apply the theory of hyperbolic spaces and groups to algorithmic questions for the Mapping Class Group and geometric properties of Kleinian representations. The authors' previous result that the complex is delta-hyperbolic was hard to apply because the complex is not locally finite; in this paper some tools are developed for overcoming this problem, and a combinatorial mechanism introduced which describes sequences of elementary moves in the graph of markings on a surface. These tools are applied to give a family of quasi-geodesic words in the Mapping Class Group, and a linear bound on the shortest word conjugating two conjugate pseudo-Anosov elements.

A basic tool in the analysis is a family of subsurface projections, which are roughly analogous to closest-point projections to horoballs in classical hyperbolic space. These projections have a strong contraction property which makes it possible to tie together the geometry of the complex and that of the (infinite) subcomplexes that arise as links of vertices. The resulting layered structure of the complex is controlled by means of a combinatorial device called a hierarchy of geodesics, which is the central construction of the paper.

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