Number of points modulo q is a stable birational invariant

This post is about a (very weak) shadow in characteristic p of the Larsen–Lunts theorem. See my previous post for the statement and sketch of the proof of Larsen–Lunts.

Remark. In characteristic p, we do not even know the weakest form of resolution of singularities (e.g. find a smooth proper model for any function field). Thus, we certainly do not know the Larsen–Lunts theorem. However, we can still try to prove corollaries (and if they fail, we know that resolution must fail).

Today, I want to talk about the following statement:

Theorem. (Ekedahl) Let k = \mathbb F_q. Let X and Y be smooth proper varieties, and assume X and Y are stably birational. Then |X(k)| \equiv |Y(k)| \pmod{q}.

Remark. This would follow immediately from Larsen–Lunts if we knew a sufficiently strong form of resolution of singularities. Indeed, the map

    \[K_0(\operatorname{Var}_k) \to \Z/q\Z\]

given by counting \F_q-points modulo q factors through K_0(\operatorname{Var}_k)/(\mathbb L) since |\mathbb A^1(\F_q)| = q. Hence, by Larsen–Lunts, it factors through \mathbb Z[\operatorname{SB}].

It turns out that the theorem is true without assuming resolution of singularities, and the proof is due to Ekedahl (although in his paper he never explicitly states it in this form). The reader should definitely check out Ekedahl’s article (see references below), because his proof is more beautiful than the one I present here, and actually proves a bit more.

We will need one fairly deep theorem:

Theorem. Let X be a variety of dimension n over k = \F_q. Let \alpha be an eigenvalue of Frobenius on H^i_c(\bar X\et, \Q_\ell). Then \alpha and q^n\alpha^{-1} are both algebraic integers.

The first part (integrality of \alpha) is fairly well-known. For the second part (integrality of q^n\alpha^{-1}), see SGA 7_{\text{II}}, Exp. XXI, Corollary 5.5.3(iii).

The statement that appears in Ekedahl’s article is the following:

Theorem. (Ekedahl’s version) Let k = \mathbb F_q. Let X and Y be smooth connected varieties (not necessarily proper!), and assume X and Y are birational. If \alpha is an eigenvalue of Frobenius on H^i(\bar X, \Q_\ell) which is not an eigenvalue on H^i(\bar Y, \Q_\ell), then \alpha is divisible by q.

This statement should be taken to include multiplicities; e.g. a double eigenvalue for X which is a simple eigenvalue for Y is also divisible by q. By symmetry, we also get the opposite statement (with X and Y swapped). Thus, the eigenvalues (with multiplicities) that are not divisible by q are the same for X and Y.

Proof. We immediately reduce to the case where X \sbq Y is an open immersion, with complement Z. We have a long exact sequence for étale cohomology with compact support:

    \[\cdots \to H^{i-1}_c(Z) \to H^i_c(X) \to H^i_c(Y) \to H^i_c(Z) \to H^{i+1}(X) \to \cdots.\]

If \alpha is an eigenvalue on some H^i_c(Z), then q^{n-1}\alpha^{-1} is an algebraic integer (see above). Hence, for any valuation v on \bar \Q with v(q) = 1, we have v(\alpha) \leq n-1. We conclude that the eigenvalues for which some valuation is > n-1 on H^i_c(X) and H^i_c(Y) agree. Hence, by Poincaré duality, the eigenvalues of H^{2n-i}(X) and H^{2n-i}(Y) for which some valuation is < 1 agree. These are exactly the ones that are not divisible by q. \qedsymbol

The theorem I stated above immediately follows from this one:

Proof. Since |X\times\P^n(\F_q)| = (q^n + \ldots + 1) |X(\F_q)|, we may replace X by X \times \P^n. Thus, we can assume X and Y are birational; both of dimension n.

By the Weil conjectures, we know that

    \[|X(\F_q)| = \sum_{i=0}^{2n} \sum_\alpha \alpha^i,\]

where the inner sum runs over all eigenvalues of Frobenius. If we reduce mod q, then we only need to consider eigenvalues that are not divisible by q. By Ekedahl’s version of the theorem, the set (with multiplicities) of such \alpha are the same for X and Y. \qedsymbol

Historical remark. Although the theorem above was essentially proven in 1983 (but not explicitly stated), a separate proof for threefolds appeared in a paper by Gilles Lachaud and Marc Perret in 2000. It uses Abhyankar’s results on resolution of singularities, and is much closer to the proof of Larsen–Lunts than Ekedahl’s proof was. In 2002, Bruno Kahn provided a different proof for the general case using some (fairly advanced?) motive machinery (‘almost without cohomology’).


Torsten Ekedahl, Sur le groupe fondamental d’une variété unirationelle. Comptes rendus de l’académie des sciences de Paris, Serie I: mathématiques, 297(12), p. 627-629 (1983).

Bruno Kahn, Number of points of function fields over finite fields. arXiv:math/0210202

Gilles Lachaud and Marc Perret, Un invariant birationnel des variétés de dimension 3 sur un corps fini. Journal of Algebraic Geometry 9 (2000), p. 451-458.

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