A plane wave propagating in a viscoelastic medium is generally inhomogeneous, meaning that the direction in which the spatial rate of amplitude attenuation is maximum is generally different from the direction of travel. The angle between these two directions, which we call the 'attenuation angle,' is an acute angle. In order to trace the ray corresponding to a plane wave propagating between a source point and a receiver point in a layered viscoelastic medium, one must know both the initial propagation angle (the angle that the raypath makes with the vertical) and the initial attenuation angle at the source point.In some recent literature on the computation of ray-synthetic seismograms in anelastic media, values for the initial attenuation angle are chosen arbitrarily; but this approach is fundamentally unsatisfactory, since different choices lead to different results for the computed waveforms. Another approach, which is more deterministic and physically acceptable, is to deduce the value of the initial attenuation angle from the value of the complex ray parameter at the saddle point of the complex traveltime function. This value can be obtained by applying the method of steepest descent to evaluate approximately the integrals giving the exact wave field at the observation point. This well-known technique results in the ray-theory limit. The initial propagation angle can also be determined from the saddle point. Among all possible primary rays between source and receiver, each having different initial propagation and attenuation angles, the ray determined by the saddle point, which we call a 'stationary ray,' has the smallest traveltime, a result which is consistent with Fermat's principle of least time. Such stationary rays are complex rays, i.e., the spatial (e.g., Cartesian) coordinates of points on stationary raypaths are complex numbers, whereas the arbitrarily determined rays mentioned above are usually traced as real rays.We compare examples of synthetic seismograms computed with stationary rays with those from some arbitrarily determined rays. If the initial value of the attenuation angle is arbitrarily chosen to be a constant for all initial propagation angles, the differences between the two types of seismograms are generally small or negligible in the subcritical zone, except when the constant is relatively large in value, say, within 10 degrees or so of its upper bound of 90 degrees. In that case, the differences are significant but still not large. However, if the surface layer is highly absorptive, the differences can be quite large and pronounced. For larger offsets, i.e., in the supercritical zone, large phase discrepancies can exist between the waveforms for the stationary rays and those for the arbitrarily determined rays, even if the constant initial attenuation angle is not large and even for moderate absorptivity in the surface layer.

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