Inversion of geophysical data relies on knowledge about how to solve the forward problem, that is, computing data from a given set of model parameters. In many applications of inverse problems, the solution to the forward problem is assumed to be known perfectly, without any error. In reality, solving the forward model (forward-modeling process) will almost always be prone to errors, which we referred to as modeling errors. For a specific forward problem, computation of crosshole tomographic first-arrival traveltimes, we evaluated how the modeling error, given several different approximate forward models, can be more than an order of magnitude larger than the measurement uncertainty. We also found that the modeling error is strongly linked to the spatial variability of the assumed velocity field, i.e., the a priori velocity model. We discovered some general tools by which the modeling error can be quantified and cast into a consistent formulation as an additive Gaussian observation error. We tested a method for generating a sample of the modeling error due to using a simple and approximate forward model, as opposed to a more complex and correct forward model. Then, a probabilistic model of the modeling error was inferred in the form of a correlated Gaussian probability distribution. The key to the method was the ability to generate many realizations from a statistical description of the source of the modeling error, which in this case is the a priori model. The methodology was tested for two synthetic ground-penetrating radar crosshole tomographic inverse problems. Ignoring the modeling error can lead to severe artifacts, which erroneously appear to be well resolved in the solution of the inverse problem. Accounting for the modeling error leads to a solution of the inverse problem consistent with the actual model. Further, using an approximate forward modeling may lead to a dramatic decrease in the computational demands for solving inverse problems.

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