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The future of Earth imaging

Victor C. Tsai
The future of Earth imaging
Seismological Research Letters (August 2023) Pre-Issue Publication


Imaging of Earth's interior has led to a large number of successful discoveries of plausible structures and associated geophysical processes. However, due to the limitations of geophysical data, Earth imaging has many trade-offs between the underlying features, and most approaches apply smoothing to reduce the effect of such trade-offs. Unfortunately, this smoothing often results in blurry images that are not clear enough either to infer the geologic processes of interest or to make quantitative inferences about the various geologic properties. Here, we first summarize some of the basic issues that make Earth imaging so difficult and explain how Earth imagers must choose between more open-ended discovery-oriented goals and more specific, scientific-inference-oriented goals. We discuss how the choice of the optimal imaging framework depends crucially on the desired goal, and particularly on whether plausible discovery or inference is the desired outcome. We argue that as Earth imaging has become more mature, sufficiently many plausible structures have been imaged that it is becoming more crucial for Earth imaging to serve the inference goal and would benefit from an inference-oriented imaging framework, despite the additional challenges in posing imaging problems in this manner. Examples of inference-oriented imaging frameworks are provided and contrasted with discovery-oriented frameworks. We discuss how the success of the various frameworks depends critically on the data quality and suggest that a careful balance must be struck between the ambition of the imager and the reality of the data. If Earth imaging is to move beyond presenting qualitatively plausible structures, it should move toward making quantitative estimates of the underlying geologic processes inferred through a self-consistent framework.

ISSN: 0895-0695
EISSN: 1938-2057
Serial Title: Seismological Research Letters
Serial Volume: Pre-Issue Publication
Title: The future of Earth imaging
Author(s): Tsai, Victor C.
Affiliation: Brown University, Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences, Providence, RI, United States
Pages: 2119-2128
Published: 20230814
Text Language: English
Publisher: Seismological Society of America, El Cerrito, CA, United States
References: 53
Accession Number: 2023-058763
Categories: Applied geophysics
Document Type: Serial
Bibliographic Level: Analytic
Illustration Description: illus.
Country of Publication: United States
Secondary Affiliation: GeoRef, Copyright 2023, American Geosciences Institute. Abstract, Copyright, Seismological Society of America. Reference includes data from GeoScienceWorld, Alexandria, VA, United States
Update Code: 2023
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