The problem of interpretation of seismic reflection data can be posed with sufficient generality using the concepts of inverse theory. In its roughest formulation, the inverse problem consists of obtaining the Earth model for which the predicted data best fit the observed data. If an adequate forward model is used, this best model will give the best images of the Earth's interior.Three parameters are needed for describing a perfectly elastic, isotropic, Earth: the density rho (x) and the Lame parameters lambda (x) and mu (x), or the density rho (x) and the P-wave and S-wave velocities alpha (x) and beta (x). The choice of parameters is not neutral, in the sense that although theoretically equivalent, if they are not adequately chosen the numerical algorithms in the inversion can be inefficient. In the long (spatial) wavelengths of the model, adequate parameters are the P-wave and S-wave velocities, while in the short (spatial) wavelengths, P-wave impedance, S-wave impedance, and density are adequate. The problem of inversion of waveforms is highly nonlinear for the long wavelengths of the velocities, while it is reasonably linear for the short wavelengths of the impedances and density. Furthermore, this parameterization defines a highly hierarchical problem: the long wavelengths of the P-wave velocity and short wavelengths of the P-wave impedance are much more important parameters than their counterparts for S-waves (in terms of interpreting observed amplitudes), and the latter are much more important than the density. This suggests solving the general inverse problem (which must involve all the parameters) by first optimizing for the P-wave velocity and impedance, then optimizing for the S-wave velocity and impedance, and finally optimizing for density.The first part of the problem of obtaining the long wavelengths of the P-wave velocity and the short wavelengths of the P-wave impedance is similar to the problem solved by present industrial practice (for accurate data interpretation through velocity analysis and 'prestack migration'). In fact, the method proposed here produces (as a byproduct) a generalization to the elastic case of the equations of 'prestack acoustic migration.'Once an adequate model of the long wavelengths of the P-wave velocity and of the short wavelengths of the P-wave impedance has been obtained, the data residuals should essentially contain information on S-waves (essentially P-S and S-P converted waves). Once the corresponding model of S-wave velocity (long wavelengths) and S-wave impedance (short wavelengths) has been obtained, and if the remaining residuals still contain information, an optimization for density should be performed (the short wavelengths of impedances do not give independent information on density and velocity independently).Because the problem is nonlinear, the whole process should be iterated to convergence; however, the information from each parameter should be independent enough for an interesting first solution.

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