David G. Moore: 1925-2024

Marine geologist and expert on seafloor sediments used pioneering methods to study the continental shelf

David G. Moore, a pioneering marine geologist known for his exploration of the near-floor continental shelf, died May 11. He was 98. 

Moore was one of the first marine geologists to explore the near-shore continental shelf firsthand using scuba diving gear and ship-based seismic profiling tools. His groundbreaking work significantly advanced the understanding of the origin and structure of the continental shelf. Recognized as an authority on seafloor sediment, he was the first recipient of the Francis P. Shepard Medal for Marine Geology, awarded by the Society for Sedimentary Geology in 1967.

A male researcher in the lab, 1950s
David G. Moore in the NUC lab in the late 1950s.

Starting in the 1950s, Moore spent many years working as a senior research marine geologist at the U.S. Naval Undersea Center (NUC) in Point Loma, as well as working with the Navy Electronics Laboratory (NEL). He was then invited by Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego to serve as chief scientist on the Deep Sea Drilling Project (DSDP), an ocean drilling program that operated from 1968 to 1983. 

Moore often worked alongside Scripps geoscientist Joseph Curray. On the 1968 Circe Expedition, Moore and Curray surveyed the Bay of Bengal in the northeastern Indian Ocean. They encountered the world's thickest seafloor sediments, deposited by the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers, forming a deep-sea fan up to 14 miles thick and extending 2,000 miles offshore. The two researchers also served as co-chief scientists on the first seafloor drilling project in the Gulf of California, DSDP Leg 64, in 1978. 

In their free time, the two worked as part of a small team running the private company Geological Diving Consultants, conducting underwater geological and geophysical surveys off the California coast.

“Dave and I together published over 30 papers in the peer-reviewed international scientific literature during our careers,” said Curray. “We’ve had a great life together, socially as well as scientifically.”

A male researcher examines sediment in a lab
David G. Moore, chief scientist aboard the D/V Glomar Challenger for Leg 47B of the Deep Sea Drilling Project, examines sediment samples collected off Portugal, 1976. Photo: Special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego

Several current researchers in the Scripps Geological Collections noted the profound influence Moore’s work has had on their careers. 

“David left a legacy that touched me very directly,” said Richard Norris, head curator of the Scripps Geological Collections. 

Norris cited Moore’s contributions to the Deep Sea Drilling Project as particularly important. For example, in 1975, Moore served as chief scientist for the Deep Sea Drilling Program, shepherding several drilling legs through the planning process to their conclusion. These included Leg 43, which drilled a number of renowned sites, including DSDP 384 off the Grand Banks Continental Rise. That cruise informed some of Norris’ early-career work in the same area. And in 1976, Moore also was the chief scientist for the DSDP that developed and executed Leg 48, which included drilling at DSDP 398D, a site south of the Vigo Seamount off Portugal. 

“As it happens, I just used a core record from DSDP 398D in the laboratory section of my Earth History course. This core has a lovely record of the asteroid impact event that contributed to the mass extinction of the dinosaurs,” said Norris. “In fact, David’s core also shows that the massive earthquake from the asteroid impact in the Gulf of Mexico arrived offshore Spain before the impact debris cloud did.”

Born July 11, 1925, Moore grew up in Long Beach, Calif. While in high school, he joined the Army Air Corps Reserve and went on active duty in 1943 at the age of 18. During World War II, he was a member of the U.S. Army Air Force’s 93rd Bombardment Group, based in England. Moore served as a waist gunner in B-24s during missions over Germany, participating in the maximum of 30 combat missions—more than any other B-24 crew member. He was discharged on V-J Day, Aug. 15, 1945. 

Following his military service, Moore attended USC in Los Angeles, receiving bachelor’s and master’s degrees in marine geology. He later earned a PhD in marine geophysics from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. 

Moore retired from his roles at NEL and DSDP in 1980, but he carried on working in the Geosciences Research Division at Scripps until 1984.

Moore was predeceased by his wife of 75 years, Claire (née Harding), and his daughter Jenny Mason of Willow Creek, Calif. He is survived by four daughters: Kathy Warren of Corona, Calif., Laurie DeLeon of San Diego, Calif., Patty (and her husband Keith) Bongiovanni of Sonoma, Calif., and Terry Devine of McKinleyville, Calif., in addition to 13 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

The family is planning a private celebration of life to honor both Dave and Claire Moore on Aug. 10, 2024. In lieu of gifts, the family requests that well-wishers consider making a donation to The Salvation Army, an organization that provided the Moore family with much-appreciated assistance after the war.

About Scripps Oceanography

Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego is one of the world’s most important centers for global earth science research and education. In its second century of discovery, Scripps scientists work to understand and protect the planet, and investigate our oceans, Earth, and atmosphere to find solutions to our greatest environmental challenges. Scripps offers unparalleled education and training for the next generation of scientific and environmental leaders through its undergraduate, master’s and doctoral programs. The institution also operates a fleet of four oceanographic research vessels, and is home to Birch Aquarium at Scripps, the public exploration center that welcomes 500,000 visitors each year.

About UC San Diego

At the University of California San Diego, we embrace a culture of exploration and experimentation. Established in 1960, UC San Diego has been shaped by exceptional scholars who aren’t afraid to look deeper, challenge expectations and redefine conventional wisdom. As one of the top 15 research universities in the world, we are driving innovation and change to advance society, propel economic growth and make our world a better place. Learn more at ucsd.edu.

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