We introduce a new lattice growth model, which we call the boundary sandpile. The model amounts to potential-theoretic redistribution of a given initial mass on ℤd (d ≥ 2) onto the boundary of an (a priori) unknown domain. The latter evolves through sandpile dynamics, and has the property that the mass on the boundary is forced to stay below a prescribed threshold. Since finding the domain is part of the problem, the redistribution process is a discrete model of a free boundary problem, whose continuum limit is yet to be understood. We prove general results concerning our model. These include canonical representation of the model in terms of the smallest super-solution among a certain class of functions, uniform Lipschitz regularity of the scaled odometer function, and hence the convergence of a subsequence of the odometer and the visited sites, discrete symmetry properties, as well as directional monotonicity of the odometer function. The latter (in part) implies the Lipschitz regularity of the free boundary of the sandpile.
As a direct application of some of the methods developed in this paper, combined with earlier results on the classical abelian sandpile, we show that the boundary of the scaling limit of an abelian sandpile is locally a Lipschitz graph.
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