Applied Geophysics

, Volume 15, Issue 3–4, pp 556–565 | Cite as

3D magnetotelluric inversions with unstructured finite-element and limited-memory quasi-Newton methods

  • Xiao-Yue Cao
  • Chang-Chun YinEmail author
  • Bo Zhang
  • Xin Huang
  • Yun-He Liu
  • Jing Cai


Traditional 3D Magnetotelluric (MT) forward modeling and inversions are mostly based on structured meshes that have limited accuracy when modeling undulating surfaces and arbitrary structures. By contrast, unstructured-grid-based methods can model complex underground structures with high accuracy and overcome the defects of traditional methods, such as the high computational cost for improving model accuracy and the difficulty of inverting with topography. In this paper, we used the limited-memory quasi-Newton (L-BFGS) method with an unstructured finite-element grid to perform 3D MT inversions. This method avoids explicitly calculating Hessian matrices, which greatly reduces the memory requirements. After the first iteration, the approximate inverse Hessian matrix well approximates the true one, and the Newton step (set to 1) can meet the sufficient descent condition. Only one calculation of the objective function and its gradient are needed for each iteration, which greatly improves its computational efficiency. This approach is well-suited for large-scale 3D MT inversions. We have tested our algorithm on data with and without topography, and the results matched the real models well. We can recommend performing inversions based on an unstructured finite-element method and the L-BFGS method for situations with topography and complex underground structures.


Magnetotelluric (MT) 3D inversion unstructured finite-element method quasi-Newton method L-BFGS 


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We are grateful to the reviewers and AP editors for their comments and suggestions, which have helped improve the clarity of this paper.


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Copyright information

© Editorial Office of Applied Geophysics and Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Xiao-Yue Cao
    • 1
  • Chang-Chun Yin
    • 1
    Email author
  • Bo Zhang
    • 1
  • Xin Huang
    • 1
    • 2
  • Yun-He Liu
    • 1
  • Jing Cai
    • 1
  1. 1.College of Geo-exploration Science and TechnologyJilin UniversityChangchunChina
  2. 2.Department of Earth SciencesMemorial University of NewfoundlandSt. John’sCanada

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