A new approximation of the velocity-depth distribution in a vertically inhomogeneous medium is suggested. This approximation guarantees the continuity of velocity and of its first and second derivatives and does not generate false low-velocity zones. It is very suitable for the computations of seismic wave fields in vertically inhomogeneous media by ray methods and its modifications, as it removes many false anomalies from the travel-time and amplitude-distance curves of seismic body waves. The ray integrals can be evaluated in a closed form; the resulting formulae for rays, travel times and geometrical spreading are very simple. They do not contain any transcendental functions (such as ln(x) or sin-1(x)) like other approximations; only the evaluation of one square root and of certain simple arithmetic expressions for each layer is required. From a computational point of view, the evaluation of ray integrals and of geometrical spreading is only slightly slower than for a system of homogeneous parallel layers and even faster than for a piece-wise linear approximation.
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