We have developed a theory of viscoelastic reverse time migration (RTM). The main feature of viscoelastic RTM is a compensation for P- and S-wave attenuation effects in seismic images during migration. The forward modeling engine is based on a viscoelastic wave equation involving fractional Laplacians. Because of the decoupled attenuation property, wave propagation can be simulated in three scenarios, i.e., only the amplitude loss effect, only the phase dispersion effect, or both effects simultaneously. This separation brings practical flexibility to studying attenuation effects on wave propagation and imaging. The backward modeling operator is constructed by reversing the sign of first-order time derivative amplitude loss operators. Synthetic examples determine the ability of viscoelastic RTM to illuminate degraded areas and shadow zones caused by attenuation. Numerical experiments also reveal that Q-compensated imaging is noticeably more accurate in kinematics and dynamics than elastic imaging in the presence of high attenuation. Results from a synthetic 3D model determine the superiority of viscoelastic RTM over elastic RTM in imaging salt flanks and delineation of salt boundaries, which are dimmed in elastic images.

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