Symplectic integrators offer many benefits for numerically approximating solutions to Hamiltonian differential equations, including bounded energy error and the preservation of invariant sets. Two important Hamiltonian systems encountered in plasma physics—the flow of magnetic field lines and the guiding center motion of magnetized charged particles—resist symplectic integration by conventional means because the dynamics are most naturally formulated in non-canonical coordinates. New algorithms were recently developed using the variational integration formalism; however, those integrators were found to admit parasitic mode instabilities due to their multistep character. This work eliminates the multistep character, and therefore the parasitic mode instabilities via an adaptation of the variational integration formalism that we deem “degenerate variational integration.” Both the magnetic field line and guiding center Lagrangians are degenerate in the sense that the resultant Euler-Lagrange equations are systems of first-order ordinary differential equations. We show that retaining the same degree of degeneracy when constructing discrete Lagrangians yields one-step variational integrators preserving a non-canonical symplectic structure. Numerical examples demonstrate the benefits of the new algorithms, including superior stability relative to the existing variational integrators for these systems and superior qualitative behavior relative to non-conservative algorithms.
The fixed endpoint condition introduces technical nuance on the existence of a path connecting such endpoints, especially for phase-space and degenerate Lagrangians. See, e.g., Ref. 40 for technical details.
Fermat's principle provides one interesting example of a degenerate Lagrangian that is not a phase-space Lagrangian: , where n is the index of refraction and we have set c = 1. This is a special case of geodesics.