A characteristic wave decomposition (CWD) method is presented in this paper, which can express the seismic records sparsely. Based on the beam-formed wavefield in characteristic domain, a beam-based characteristic wave imaging method (CWI) is put forward. CWI has a theoretical speedup of 1~2 orders of magnitude over the conventional ray-based migration methods. Besides, it can handle low signal to noise ratio data. Moreover, target oriented imaging can be implemented conveniently, and angle gathers can be produced naturally by CWI. Consequently, CWI is an efficient technique for large scale seismic imaging and 3D velocity model building.


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