Geophysicists are often concerned with reconstructing subsurface properties using observations collected at or near the surface. For example, in seismic migration, we attempt to reconstruct subsurface geometry from surface seismic recordings, and in potential field inversion, observations are used to map electrical conductivity or density variations in geologic layers. The procedure of inferring information from indirect observations is called an inverse problem by mathematicians, and such problems are common in many areas of the physical sciences. The inverse problem of inferring the subsurface using surface observations has a corresponding forward problem, which consists of determining the data that would be recorded for a given subsurface configuration. In the seismic case, forward modeling involves a method for calculating a synthetic seismogram, for gravity data it consists of a computer code to compute gravity fields from an assumed subsurface density model. Note that forward modeling often involves assumptions about the appropriate physical relationship between unknowns (at depth) and observations on the surface, and all attempts to solve the problem at hand are limited by the accuracy of those assumptions. In the broadest sense then, exploration geophysicists have been engaged in inversion since the dawn of the profession and indeed algorithms often applied in processing centers can all be viewed as procedures to invert geophysical data.

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