Absolutely continuous measures

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2010 Mathematics Subject Classification: Primary: 28A33 [MSN][ZBL]

A concept in measure theory (see also Absolute continuity). If $\mu$ and $\nu$ are two measures on a $\sigma$-algebra $\mathcal{B}$ of subsets of $X$, we say that $\nu$ is absolutely continuous with respect to $\mu$ if $\nu (A) =0$ for any $A\in\mathcal{B}$ such that $\mu (A) =0$. The absolute continuity of $\nu$ with respect to $\mu$ is denoted by $\nu<<\mu$. If the measure $\nu$ is finite, i.e. $\nu (X) <\infty$, the property $\nu<<\mu$ is equivalent to the following stronger statement: for any $\varepsilon>0$ there is a $\delta>0$ such that $\nu (A)<\varepsilon$ for every $A$ with $\mu (A)<\delta$.

This definition can be generalized to signed measures $\nu$ and even to vector-valued measure $\nu$. Some authors generalize it further to vector-valued $\mu$'s: in that case the absolute continuity of $\nu$ with respect to $\mu$ amounts to the requirement that $\nu (A) = 0$ for any $A\in\mathcal{B}$ such that $|\mu| (A)=0$, where $|\mu|$ is the total variation of $\mu$ (see Signed measure for the relevant definition).

The Radon-Nikodym theorem characterizes the absolute continuity of $\nu$ with respect to $\mu$ with the existence of a function $f\in L^1 (\mu)$ such that $\nu = f \mu$, i.e. such that \[ \nu (A) = \int_A f\rd\mu \qquad \text{for every '"`UNIQ-MathJax37-QINU`"'.} \] A corollary of the Radon-Nikodym, the Hahn decomposition theorem, characterizes signed measures as differences of nonnegative measures. We refer to Signed measure for more on this topic.

Two measures which are mutually absolutely continuous are sometimes called equivalent.

Radon-Nikdoym decomposition

If $\mu$ is a nonnegative measure on a $\sigma$-algebra $\mathcal{B}$ and $\nu$ another nonnegative measure on the same $\sigma$-algebra (which might be a signed measure, or even taking values in a finite-dimensional vector space), then $\nu$ can be decomposed in a unique way as $\nu=\nu_a+\nu_s$ where - $\nu_a$ is absolutey continuous with respect to $\mu$; - $\nu_s$ is singular with respect to $\mu$, i.e. there is a set $A$ of $\mu$-measure zero such that $\nu_s (X\setminus A)=0$ (this property is often denoted by $\nu_s\perp \mu$. This decomposition is called Radon-Nikodym decompoition by some authors and Lebesgue decomposition by some other. The same decomposition holds even if $\nu$ is a signed measure or, more generally, a vector-valued measure. In these cases the property $\nu_s (X\setminus A)=0$ is substituted by $|\nu_s| (X\setminus A)=0$, where $|\nu_s|$ denotes the total variation measure of $\nu_s$ (we refer to Signed measure for the relevant definition).


A set of non-zero measure that has no subsets of smaller, but still positive, measure is called an atom of the measure. When considering the Borel $\sigma$-algebra $\mathcal{B}$ in the euclidean space and the measure $\lambda$ as reference measure, it is a common mistake to claim that the singular part of a second measure $\nu$ must be concentrated on points which are atoms. A singular measure may be atomless, as is shown by the measure concentrated on the standard Cantor set which puts zero on each gap of the set and $2^{-n}$ on the intersection of the set with the interval of generation $n$ (such measure is also the distributional derivative of the Cantor ternary function or devil staircase).

When some canonical measure $\mu$ is fixed, (as the Lebesgue measure on $\mathbb R^n$ or its subsets or, more generally, the Haar measure on a topological group), one says that $\nu$ is absolutely continuous meaning that $\nu<<\mu$.


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Absolutely continuous measures. Encyclopedia of Mathematics. URL:
This article was adapted from an original article by T. Nowicki (originator), which appeared in Encyclopedia of Mathematics - ISBN 1402006098. See original article