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High-resolution FWI: Changing the Way we Image and Interpret Seismic


Spyros Lazaratos, David McAdow, Partha Routh, Ivan Chikichev, ExxonMobil Upstream Research Company

Copyright 2012, Offshore Technology Conference


This paper was prepared for presentation at the Offshore Technology Conference held in Houston, Texas, USA, 30 April3 May 2012.
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Abstract
The emergence of Full Wavefield Inversion (FWI) methods represents a paradigm shift with the potential to revolutionize the
way we image and interpret seismic. Advances in algorithms and computing technology are now making FWI practical,
making it possible to construct detailed subsurface property models that adequately explain the full bandwidth of the seismic
data. We recently developed new concepts and algorithms that allow us to run 3D FWI using much higher frequencies - up to
45 Hz for one of the examples we will be discussing - than what has been shown in most published FWI studies to-date
(usually less than 8-10 Hz). High-resolution FWI products can be viewed as 3D volumes of well logs, and their availability
creates new opportunities in the way we interpret and use seismic data. We expect FWI to impact applications at all business
stages, ranging from improved structural imaging during exploration to detailed reservoir description and characterization for
development and production.
Introduction
Seismic imaging has been advancing rapidly over the last two decades, transitioning from post-stack time migration to prestack depth migration and from ray-theoretic algorithms (Kirchoff migration) to one-way wave-equation solvers (waveequation migration), and finally to more accurate reverse-time migration (RTM) methods. This progression has been
motivated by the business climate, with exploration moving to more and more challenging environments (e.g. Gulf of Mexico
sub-salt) and the demand for more and more accurate reservoir characterization to maximize and maintain production from
discovered fields. The most recent, and perhaps ultimate, step in this evolving sequence is Full Wavefield Inversion (FWI),
which has rapidly become a focal area for research and development within the geophysical community and industry. One
could argue that the FWI approach represents the dream of every geoscientist: generate detailed subsurface property models
of the earth that can accurately reproduce, through simulation, the seismic data used to construct them. Unlike evolution in
the migration algorithms, which has been continuous and incremental, FWI represents a change in philosophy, both in the
way we image the seismic data, and also in how we interpret the resulting products.
Although much more research and development will be necessary to capitalize on the full potential of FWI, we feel that
several of the main difficulties (primarily overcoming the computational requirements necessary to implement and apply the
method) have been overcome. We are already using FWI to generate subsurface models with the resolution and quality to
impact business decisions. This presentation will provide an overview of the method, some of the advances that are making it
feasible, and real data examples to illustrate its potential.
Full-Wavefield Inversion
A generic conceptual flowchart of the Full Wavefield Inversion (FWI) approach is shown in Figure 1. The objective of the
method is to generate models of subsurface rock properties (e.g. compressional and shear wave velocity, density) fully
consistent with the recorded seismic data, such that the recorded real data can be reproduced through accurate forward
simulation of the seismic experiment. The simulation needs to incorporate a high degree of realism, correctly representing the
seismic data acquisition geometry and the physics governing seismic wave propagation in the subsurface. The level of
sophistication of seismic simulation employed in FWI projects is currently evolving beyond using simple acoustic physics
(subsurface supporting compressional waves only but ignoring shear strength of rocks) to more elaborate and realistic elastic

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modeling (both compressional and shear waves adequately described). Ultimately anisotropic visco-elastic simulations will
provide the degree of realism required to fully match the complexity of seismic wave propagation in the earths subsurface.
The FWI process starts with synthetic data generated from an initial subsurface model. The synthetic and real seismic data
are compared and their difference used to update the model. Then new synthetic data are generated leading to new model
updates and the process continues iteratively until an acceptable level of match is achieved between synthetic and real data.
The iterative, simulation-based FWI method represents a drastic change in the way seismic data are analyzed and used to
image the subsurface. Standard seismic processing consists of a sequence of operations, each successively cleaning-up and
preparing the data for the ultimate imaging step (migration). As the data progress through the sequence, several recorded
wave modes (e.g. multiples, converted waves) are removed (considered to be noise) so that they do not interfere with the
image created from the primary compressional reflections. Estimation (inversion) of subsurface rock properties is done after
imaging, but there is no explicit feedback loop validating such estimates based on the degree to which they can reproduce the
original data.
In contrast to the standard approach, FWI has the potential to use all recorded wave modes to constrain the subsurface model.
The process includes an explicit validation step, checking the degree to which our subsurface representation is consistent with
the data, naturally providing measures of non-uniqueness and uncertainty in our estimates. The process is largely automated,
using highly accurate and expensive computer simulation to bypass the human-intensive and subjective sequence of decisions
implied by the traditional approach.
Speed-up Methods
Although the FWI concept is very appealing and the relevant theory was developed several decades ago (Tarantola, 1984),
commercial 3D application of FWI is only now becoming practical, largely driven by advances in computing technology that
enable wave simulation using highly-accurate techniques such as finite differences and finite elements. Despite such
advances, FWI applications are challenging even for state-of-the-art computing clusters. This is particularly true as we move
from acoustic to elastic and visco-elastic simulations of large 3D seismic surveys. Simulating the full bandwidth of modern,
high-resolution seismic surveys is particularly challenging: the computing cost of seismic simulation increases by a factor
proportional to the 4th power of the frequency being simulated (e.g. doubling the maximum frequency by a factor of 2
increases the computing cost by a factor of 16). In most published FWI real-data studies to-date (e.g. Sirgue et al., 2009; Vigh
et al., 2010), only the lowest frequency (usually less than 8-10 Hz) portion of the data was used as input for FWI, generating
interesting, but very low-resolution, results.
We recently developed new concepts and algorithms that are now allowing us to simulate and invert the full bandwidth of the
seismic data. We can now run 3D FWI using much higher frequencies (up to 45 Hz for one of the examples we will be
discussing), generating high-resolution FWI products. Below we briefly highlight two such methods.
Encoded Simultaneous Source
The FWI process in principle requires simulation of a very large number of independent seismic experiments, each one
corresponding to a source location that was occupied in the seismic survey. This would imply calculating tens of thousands of
shot simulations for medium-to-small-size 3D surveys and for each iteration of the FWI loop. Instead we have found that the
cost of FWI can be significantly reduced by applying it to data formed by encoding and summing the seismograms obtained
from the individual shot experiments (Figure 2). The encoding step forms a single gather from many input source gathers.
This gather represents data that would have been acquired from a spatially distributed set of sources. Instead of simulating
and inverting the original shots independently, we found that we can invert the encoded simultaneous source gather, without
significantly reducing the accuracy of the inversion results. The technique as published in Krebs (Krebs et al, 2009) describes
application for fixed-spread data, and further enhancements are described in Routh (Routh et al., 2011) for marine streamer
data.
Spectral Shaping
The number of iterations required for convergence of FWI can often be dramatically reduced by appropriately shaping the
spectrum of the seismic data and the source wavelet. The key idea behind the method is that a reasonable estimate of the
frequency spectrum of the subsurface is known a-priori. When this is the case, the inversion can be conditioned to produce
models with the desired frequency spectrum from the very first iteration. This implies that computational effort does not need
to be spent on iterations that adjust the spectrum of the subsurface model, leading to much faster convergence rate. In
addition spectral shaping provides stability for FWI, by preferentially weighting the lower frequency components of the data.

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This method has very wide applicability and extends to FWI the concepts developed through the work of Lancaster and
Whitcombe (2000) and Lazaratos and David (2009). These prior publications introduced the idea that the model generated
by inversion should have a frequency spectrum that, on average, is similar to the spectrum of the earths subsurface, as
measured by well logs (Figure 3). For any given area, this target spectrum can be derived by averaging the spectra of log
curves recorded in local wells. In practice, it has been observed that typical well-log spectra are fairly similar for a very large
variety of geographic locations, depths and depositional environments, so that the general form of inversion target spectra is
robust and well defined. Using the spectral shaping method we have been able to reduce the number of iterations required to
achieve convergence for typical FWI applications from several hundreds to 10-20 iterations (Lazaratos et al., 2011).
Summary
FWI represents a change of philosophy in the way we analyze and image seismic data and the types of products we use for
interpretation. Instead of imaging boundaries (reflectivity), we now focus on building models of subsurface rock properties.
Instead of a human-intensive sequence of processing steps, that successively attenuate portions of the data (as noise), we
use an iterative feedback loop, converging to models that can explain (through detailed simulation) more of the recorded
wavefield. The FWI process is computationally very expensive, but with a combination of hardware improvements and new
algorithms, such as simultaneous source and spectral shaping, we are getting to a point where we can invert the full recorded
bandwidth to generate high-resolution FWI products. Computing and algorithmic improvements will remain necessary as we
use more and more complex simulation physics, but the benefits of the process are already becoming apparent. At the
presentation we will show examples demonstrating the benefits FWI is already providing for improved imaging and reservoir
characterization.
References
Krebs, J., Anderson, J., Hinkley, D., Neelamani, R., Lee, S., Baumstein, A., and Lacasse, M., 2009, Fast full-wavefield
seismic inversion using encoded sources, Geophysics, 74, no. 6, WCC177-188.
Lancaster, S., and Whitcombe, D., 2000, Fast track coloured inversion, Expanded Abstracts, 70th SEG Annual Meeting,
Calgary, 1672-1575.
Lazaratos, S., and David, R., 2009, Inversion by pre-migration spectral shaping, Expanded Abstracts, 79th SEG Annual
Meeting, Houston.
Lazaratos, S., Chikichev, I., and Wang, K., 2011, Improving the convergence rate of full wavefield inversion using spectral
shaping, Expanded Abstracts, 81st SEG Annual Meeting, San Antonio.
Routh, P., Krebs, J., Lazaratos, S., Baumstein, A., Chikichev, I., Lee, S., Downey, N., Hinkley, D., Anderson, J., 2011,
Application of encoded simultaneous source full-wavefield inversion to marine streamer data, Expanded Abstracts, 81st SEG
Annual Meeting, San Antonio.
Sirgue, L., Barkved, O., Van Gestel, J., Askim, O., and Kommedal, J., 2009, 3D waveform inversion on Valhall wideazimuth OBS, Expanded Abstracts, 71st EAGE Conference & Exhibition, Amsterdam, U038.
Tarantola, A., 1984, Inversion of seismic reflection data in the acoustic approximation, Geophysics, 49, 1259-1266.
Vigh, D., Starr, B., Kapoor, J., and Li, H., 2010, 3D full waveform inversion of a Gulf of Mexico WAZ data set, Expanded
Abstracts, 80th Annual SEG Meeting, Denver, 957-961.

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Figure 1: FWI generic flowchart.

Figure 2: Encoded simultaneous source method. Shots are encoded and simulated simultaneously with minimal loss of
information. Measured seismic data are also encoded and blended to simulate simultaneous acquisition

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Figure 3: Typical seismic (red) and well log (impedance in blue; reflectivity in pink) spectra, as shown in Lazaratos and
David (2009). Lancaster and Whitcombe (2000) and Lazaratos and David (2009) demonstrate that the spectrum of inversion
results should match the well log impedance spectrum. This constraint can be incorporated into FWI to dramatically reduce
the number of iterations required for convergence.