In many geophysical inverse problems, smoothness assumptions on the underlying geology are used to mitigate the effects of nonuniqueness, poor data coverage, and noise in the data and to improve the quality of the inferred model parameters. Within a Bayesian inference framework, a priori assumptions about the probabilistic structure of the model parameters can impose such a smoothness constraint, analogous to regularization in a deterministic inverse problem. We have considered an empirical Bayes generalization of the Kirchhoff-based least-squares migration (LSM) problem. We have developed a novel methodology for estimation of the reflectivity model and regularization parameters, using a Bayesian statistical framework that treats both of these as random variables to be inferred from the data. Hence, rather than fixing the regularization parameters prior to inverting for the image, we allow the data to dictate where to regularize. Estimating these regularization parameters gives us information about the degree of conditional correlation (or lack thereof) between neighboring image parameters, and, subsequently, incorporating this information in the final model produces more clearly visible discontinuities in the estimated image. The inference framework is verified on 2D synthetic data sets, in which the empirical Bayes imaging results significantly outperform standard LSM images. We note that although we evaluated this method within the context of seismic imaging, it is in fact a general methodology that can be applied to any linear inverse problem in which there are spatially varying correlations in the model parameter space.

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