The Cremona group is the group of birational transformations of the plane. A birational transformation for which there exists a pencil of lines which is sent onto another pencil of lines is called a Jonquières transformation. By the famous Noether–Castelnuovo theorem, every birational transformation is a product of Jonquières transformations. The minimal number of factors in such a product will be called the length, and written . Even if this length is rather unpredictable, we provide an explicit algorithm to compute it, which only depends on the multiplicities of the linear system of .
As an application of this computation, we give a few properties of the dynamical length of defined as the limit of the sequence . It follows for example that an element of the Cremona group is distorted if and only if it is algebraic. The computation of the length may also be applied to the so called Wright complex associated with the Cremona group: This has been done recently by Lonjou. Moreover, we show that the restriction of the length to the automorphism group of the affine plane is the classical length of this latter group (the length coming from its amalgamated structure). In another direction, we compute the lengths and dynamical lengths of all monomial transformations, and of some Halphen transformations. Finally, we show that the length is a lower semicontinuous map on the Cremona group endowed with its Zariski topology.
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