Clarifying and locating small-scale discontinuities or inhomogeneities in the subsurface, such as faults and collapsed columns, plays a vital role in safe coal mining because these discontinuities or inhomogeneities may destroy the continuity of layers and result in dangerous mining accidents. Diffractions carry key information from these objects and therefore can be used for high-resolution imaging. However, diffracted/scattered waves are much weaker than reflected waves and consequently require separation before being imaged. We have developed a Mahalanobis-based diffraction imaging method by modifying the classic Kirchhoff formula with an exponential function to account for the dynamic differences between reflections and diffractions in the shot domain. The imaging method can automatically account for destroying of reflected waves, constructive stacking of diffracted waves, and strengthening of scattered waves. The method can overcome the difficulties in handling Fresnel apertures, and it is suitable for high-resolution imaging because of the consistency of the waveforms in the shot domain. Although the proposed method in principle requires a good migration velocity model for calculating elementary diffraction traveltimes, it is robust to an inaccurate migration velocity model. Two numerical experiments demonstrate the feasibility of the proposed method in removing reflections and highlighting diffractions, and one field application further confirms its efficiency in resolving masked faults and collapsed columns.

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