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Migration is recognized as the essential step in converting seismic data into a representation of the earth's subsurface structure. Ironically, conventional migration often fails where migration is needed most--when the data are recorded over complex structures. Processing field data shot in Central America and synthetic data derived for that section, demonstrates that time migration actually degrades the image of the deep structure that lies below a complicated overburden.
In the Central American example, velocities increase nearly two-fold across an arched and thrust-faulted interface. Wave-front distortion introduced by this feature gives rise to distorted reflections from depth. Even with interval velocity known perfectly, no velocity is proper for time migrating the data here; time migration is the wrong process because it does not honor Snell's law. Depth migration of the stacked data, on the other hand, produces a reasonable image of the deeper section. The depth migration, however, leaves artifacts that could be attributed to problems that are common in structurally complicated areas: (1) departures of the stacked section from the ideal, a zero-offset section, (2) incorrect specification of velocities, and (3) loss of energy transmitted through t e complex zone.
For such an inhomogeneous velocity structure, shortcomings in CDP stacking are related directly to highly nonhyperbolic moveout. As with migration velocity, no proper stacking velocity can be developed for these data, even from the known interval-velocity model. Proper treatment of nonzero-offset reflection data could be accomplished by depth migration before stacking. Simple ray-theoretical correction of the complex moveouts, however, can produce a stack that is similar to the desired zero-offset section.
Overall, the choice of velocity model most strongly influences the results of depth migration. Processing the data with a range of plausible velocity models, however, leads to an important conclusion: although the velocities can never be known exactly, depth migration is essential for clarifying structure beneath complex overburden.
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