Inversion of reflection traveltimes in anisotropic media can provide estimates of anisotropic coefficients required for seismic processing and lithology discrimination. Nonhyperbolic P-wave moveout for transverse isotropy with a vertical symmetry axis (VTI media) is controlled by the parameter η (or, alternatively, by the horizontal velocity Vhor), which is also responsible for the influence of anisotropy on all time-processing steps, including dip-moveout (DMO) correction and time migration. Here, we recast the nonhyperbolic moveout equation, originally developed by Tsvankin and Thomsen, as a function of Vhor and normal-moveout (NMO) velocity Vnmo and introduce a correction factor in the denominator that increases the accuracy at intermediate offsets. Then we apply this equation to obtain Vhor and η from nonhyperbolic semblance analysis on long common midpoint (CMP) spreads and study the accuracy and stability of the inversion procedure.

Our error analysis shows that the horizontal velocity becomes relatively well-constrained by reflection traveltimes if the spreadlength exceeds twice the reflector depth. There is, however, a certain degree of tradeoff between Vhor and Vnmo caused by the interplay between the quadratic and quartic term of the moveout series. Since the errors in Vhor and Vnmo have opposite signs, the absolute error in the parameter ? (which depends on the ratio Vhor/Vnmo) turns out to be at least two times bigger than the percentage error in Vhor. Therefore, the inverted value of η is highly sensitive to small correlated errors in reflection traveltimes, with moveout distortions on the order of 3–4 ms leading to errors in ? up to ±0.1—even in the simplest model of a single VTI layer. Similar conclusions apply to vertically inhomogeneous media, in which the interval horizontal velocity can be obtained with an accuracy often comparable to that of the NMO velocity, while the interval values of η are distorted by the tradeoff between Vhor and Vnmo that gets amplified by the Dix-type differentiation procedure.

We applied nonhyperbolic semblance analysis to a walkaway VSP data set acquired at Vacuum field, New Mexico, and obtained a significant value of η = 0.19 indicative of nonnegligible anisotropy in this area. Then we combined moveout inversion results with the known vertical velocity to resolve the anisotropic coefficients ε and δ. However, in agreement with our modeling results, η estimation was significantly compounded by the scatter in the measured traveltimes.

Certain instability in η inversion has no influence on the results of anisotropic poststack time migration because all kinematically equivalent models obtained from nonhyperbolic moveout give an adequate description of long-spread reflection traveltimes. Also, inversion of nonhyperbolic moveout provides a relatively accurate horizontal-velocity function that can be combined with the vertical velocity (if it is available) to estimate the anisotropic coefficient ε. However, η represents a valuable lithology indicator that can be obtained from surface P-wave data. Therefore, for purposes of lithology discrimination, it is preferable to find η by means of the more stable DMO method of Alkhalifah and Tsvankin.

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