Seismic full-waveform inversion (FWI) for imaging Earth’s interior was introduced in the late 1970s. Its ultimate goal is to use all of the information in a seismogram to understand the structure and dynamics of Earth, such as hydrocarbon reservoirs, the nature of hotspots and the forces behind plate motions and earthquakes. Thanks to developments in high-performance computing and advances in modern numerical methods in the past 10 years, 3D FWI has become feasible for a wide range of applications and is currently used across nine orders of magnitude in frequency and wavelength. A typical FWI workflow includes selecting seismic sources and a starting model, conducting forward simulations, calculating and evaluating the misfit, and optimizing the simulated model until the observed and modelled seismograms converge on a single model. This method has revealed Pleistocene ice scrapes beneath a gas cloud in the Valhall oil field, overthrusted Iberian crust in the western Pyrenees mountains, deep slabs in subduction zones throughout the world and the shape of the African superplume. The increased use of multi-parameter inversions, improved computational and algorithmic efficiency, and the inclusion of Bayesian statistics in the optimization process all stand to substantially improve FWI, overcoming current computational or data-quality constraints. In this Technical Review, FWI methods and applications in controlled-source and earthquake seismology are discussed, followed by a perspective on the future of FWI, which will ultimately result in increased insight into the physics and chemistry of Earth’s interior.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Atmospheric Science
- Earth-Surface Processes
- Nature and Landscape Conservation