Conventional finite-difference methods produce accurate solutions to the acoustic and elastic wave equation for many applications, but they face significant challenges when material properties vary significantly over distances less than the grid size. This challenge is likely to occur in reservoir characterization studies, because important reservoir heterogeneity can be present on scales of several meters to ten meters. Here, we describe a new multiscale finite-element method for simulating acoustic wave propagation in heterogeneous media that addresses this problem by coupling fine- and coarse-scale grids. The wave equation is solved on a coarse grid, but it uses basis functions that are generated from the fine grid and allow the representation of the fine-scale variation of the wavefield on the coarser grid. Time stepping also takes place on the coarse grid, providing further speed gains. Another important property of the method is that the basis functions are only computed once, and time savings are even greater when simulations are repeated for many source locations. We first present validation results for simple test models to demonstrate and quantify potential sources of error. These tests show that the fine-scale solution can be accurately approximated when the coarse grid applies a discretization up to four times larger than the original fine model. We then apply the multiscale algorithm to simulate a complete 2D seismic survey for a model with strong, fine-scale scatterers and apply standard migration algorithms to the resulting synthetic seismograms. The results again show small errors. Comparisons to a model that is upscaled by averaging densities on the fine grid show that the multiscale results are more accurate.

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