A new technique is presented for the inversion of head-wave traveltimes to infer near-surface structure. Traveltimes computed along intersecting pairs of refracted rays are used to reconstruct the shape of the first refracting horizon beneath the surface and variations in refractor velocity along this boundary. The information derived can be used as the basis for further processing, such as the calculation of near-surface static delays. One advantage of the method is that the shape of the refractor is determined independently of the refractor velocity. With multifold coverage, rapid lateral changes in refractor geometry or velocity can be mapped. Two examples of the inversion technique are presented: one uses a synthetic data set; the other is drawn from field data shot over a deep graben filled with sediment. The results obtained using the synthetic data validate the method and support the conclusions of an error analysis, in which errors in the refractor velocity determined using receivers to the left and right of the shots are of opposite sign. The true refractor velocity therefore falls between the two sets of estimates. The refraction image obtained by inversion of the set of field data is in good agreement with a constant-velocity reflection stack and illustrates that the ray inversion method can handle large lateral changes in refractor velocity or relief.

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