Geologist, Beloved Campus Citizen Eldridge Moores Dies

Eldridge Moores gestures in front of a rock face.
Geologist Eldridge Moores: His pioneering work contributed to the science of plate tectonics, which revolutionized the field of earth science in the 1960s. (Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences)

Quick Summary

  • His work resulted in major new perspectives on regional geology and tectonic problems, while defining globally important ideas
  • Prominently featured in “Assembling California,” by Pulitzer Prize-winner John McPhee, about the geology along Interstate 80
  • Beloved educator and mentor, not to mention a campus musician as a cellist in the Symphony Orchestra for 28 years

Distinguished Professor Emeritus and world-renowned geologist Eldridge Moores died unexpectedly Sunday (Oct. 28) while on a geology field trip. He was 80.

Moores began his career at UC Davis more than 52 years ago as a founding member of the Department of Geology (now known as Earth and Planetary Sciences) and the College of Letters and Science.

“Eldridge embodied all that we are proud of here at UC Davis. His contributions to earth science remain his legacy,” Chancellor Gary S. May said in a statement to the community. “We are devastated over this loss but grateful to have known him.”

As field geologist, Moores focused on classical structural geology, rock-forming processes and plate tectonics through his career. In each area, his work resulted in major new perspectives on regional geology and tectonic problems, while defining globally important ideas with impressive longevity. These efforts are recorded in more than 130 scientific articles, including seminal papers published during the development of the theory of plate tectonics, and two widely read textbooks. His pioneering work contributed to the science of plate tectonics, which revolutionized the field of earth science in the 1960s.

He was prominently featured in Assembling California, the last book in John McPhee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning series, “Annals of the Former World,” about the geology along Interstate 80.

‘Outsize impact’ in geology

Eldridge Moores, environmental
Moores: “The best ambassador for earth science we could ask for.”

He served as president of the Geological Society of America in 1996, helping to revitalize its premier geology journal and calling for action among geologists to bring more science to the public. He received the society’s Distinguished Service Award and was the first recipient of the Geological Association of Canada medal.

“He had an outsize impact on the field, but that doesn’t even address the fact that he is easily the most beloved member of the department and the best ambassador for earth science we could ask for,” colleague Tessa Hill said.

Department chair Mike Oskin called him the moral compass of the department, saying, “Eldridge made it a point to be sure every person in the department felt welcome.” His profound legacy leaves behind a diverse and collegial department.

Moores continued to be scientifically engaged after retirement, keeping an office on campus and attending student talks to show his support. He was a member of the College of Letters and Science Dean’s Advisory Council. In June 2016, almost 100 faculty, students, alumni and friends gathered to celebrate his 50-year legacy at UC Davis.

“Eldridge was a remarkable individual — astute, generous and consistently engaged with the most important questions in ways that benefited the whole UC Davis community,” said Elizabeth Spiller, dean of the College of Letters and Sciences. “His values reflected the best of what UC Davis is and should be.”

Gifts from Eldridge and Judy Moores

In 2016, Moores and his wife, Judy, made a planned gift to support UC Davis students conducting field work through the Eldridge and Judith Moores Field Geology Fund, which he said was essential to understanding the “big geological experiment.” In 2011, they founded the Eldridge Moores Distinguished Visiting Scholars Fund in the Geosciences.

Colleague Louise Kellogg, distinguished professor of earth and planetary sciences, said Moores had a broad vision of the scientific processes of the Earth and how the earth works as a geologic system. She said he wasn’t afraid to put a bold idea out there and challenge others to find out more.

“He was one of the reasons I came to UC Davis in 1990,” she said.

Kellogg and her colleagues remember him as an educator and a mentor, always encouraging students and faculty to pursue new ideas. They say his passionate commitment to diversity and equity made the department an incredibly positive place to work.

In addition to his lifelong passion for geology, Moores played cello in the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra for 28 years. The music department plans to dedicate its Nov. 18 concert to him.

This fall, accompanied by graduate students, alumni and faculty, Moores returned to Macedonia where he began his field work, and they visited one of his former students. At the time of his death, he was leading a field trip with students and faculty to visit an area where he conducted research in the greater Feather River-Lake Almanor region.

He is survived by his wife, Judy; three children, Geneva Moores and husband Peter de Boor, Brian Moores, and Kat (Moores) Conley; and three grandchildren Corwin, Jasper and Malva de Boor.

Media Resources

Melissa Blouin, 530-752-2542,

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