We present an efficient scheme for depth extrapolation of wide-angle 3D wavefields in laterally heterogeneous media. The scheme improves the so-called optimum split-step Fourier method by introducing a frequency-independent cascaded operator with spatially varying coefficients. The developments improve the approximation of the optimum split-step Fourier cascaded operator to the exact phase-shift operator of a varying velocity in the presence of strong lateral velocity variations, and they naturally lead to frequency-dependent varying-step depth extrapolations that reduce computational cost significantly. The resulting scheme can be implemented alternatively in spatial and wavenumber domains using fast Fourier transforms (FFTs). The accuracy of the first-order approximate algorithm is similar to that of the second-order optimum split-step Fourier method in modeling wide-angle propagation through strong, laterally varying media. Similar to the optimum split-step Fourier method, the scheme is superior to methods such as the generalized screen and Fourier finite difference. We demonstrate the scheme's accuracy by comparing it with 3D two-way finite-difference modeling. Comparisons with the 3D prestack Kirchhoff depth migration of a real 3D data set demonstrate the practical application of the proposed method.

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