The need for incorporating the traction-free condition at the air-earth boundary for finite-difference modeling of seismic wave propagation has been discussed widely. A new implementation has been developed for simulating elastic wave propagation in which the free-surface condition is replaced by an explicit acoustic-elastic boundary. Detailed comparisons of seismograms with different implementations for the air-earth boundary were undertaken using the (2,2) (the finite-difference operators are second order in time and space) and the (2,6) (second order in time and sixth order in space) standard staggered-grid (SSG) schemes. Methods used in these comparisons to define the air-earth boundary included the stress image method (SIM), the heterogeneous approach, the scheme of modifying material properties based on transversely isotropic medium approach, the acoustic-elastic boundary approach, and an analytical approach. The method proposed achieves the same or higher accuracy of modeled body waves relative to the SIM. Rayleigh waves calculated using the explicit acoustic-elastic boundary approach differ slightly from those calculated using the SIM. Numerical results indicate that when using the (2,2) SSG scheme for SIM and our new method, a spatial step of 16 points per minimum wavelength is sufficient to achieve 90% accuracy; 32 points per minimum wavelength achieves 95% accuracy in modeled Rayleigh waves. When using the (2,6) SSG scheme for the two methods, a spatial step of eight points per minimum wavelength achieves 95% accuracy in modeled Rayleigh waves. Our proposed method is physically reasonable and, based on dispersive analysis of simulated seismographs from a layered half-space model, is highly accurate. As a bonus, our proposed method is easy to program and slightly faster than the SIM. ?? 2007 Society of Exploration Geophysicists.