The mathematical theory which is typically used to model the intrinsic anelasticity of the earth is the linear theory of viscoelasticity. The effects of anelasticity on wave propagation, such as absorption and dispersion, are often described using one-dimensional (1-D) plane waves of the form exp [i(ωt − kx)] with k complex and frequency-dependent. These waves are solutions of the 1-D viscoelastic wave equation.

The reflection and transmission of plane waves in a layered viscoelastic medium is, however, a 2-D or 3-D problem. The solutions to the 2-D or 3-D viscoelastic wave equation are the so-called general plane waves, which are classified as homogeneous or inhomogeneous depending upon whether or not the planes of constant phase, i.e., wavefronts, coincide with the planes of constant amplitude (the 1-D plane waves mentioned above are strictly homogeneous).

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