Today's Paper Arkansas News LEARNS Guide Legislature Sports Core Values Puzzles Newsletters Public Notices Archive Obits Opinion Story Ideas

IT TAKES A LIFETIME: Retired geologist tracked California’s seismic faults

by Kimberly Dishongh | March 12, 2023 at 3:15 a.m.
James Moreno, 74, is a retired geologist living in Maumelle. He spent most of his career working on the Alquist-Priolo Fault Zoning project, mapping active fault lines and helping to enforce building codes to keep California residents safe. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette)

Jim Moreno's career allowed him to dig into various topics.

Since moving to Arkansas about 10 years ago, the retired geologist has enjoyed exploring some of the state's landmarks and natural resources.

The diamond mines, of course, were of interest to him. The granite quarries, too, caught his attention.

Moreno, 74, spent most of his career in California, working on the Alquist-Priolo Fault Zoning project. His goal was to help reduce the risk of property damage or injury or death that could result from building on active fault lines.

"California has a lot of building codes for electric lines, gas lines, water lines, for individual homes, hospitals, and so on and so forth, and one of the things we've learned after about 80 years is that the building codes work," Moreno says. "However, there are several faults in California that are called active faults, and they creep along, at maybe a quarter of an inch a year."

His job was to map those faults -- which first had to be defined based on how often they moved, how much they moved, how deep they were and more -- so that related building zones could be adapted and enforced.

"There were only about eight people doing this work in California, which is about three times the size of Arkansas," he says.

Growing up in central and Southern California, Moreno moved around as his father taught language classes at colleges and universities. The family began a two-year stint in Arkansas in 1962 while his father taught at Hendrix College in Conway.

After that they returned to California -- to Santa Ana, in Orange County, Calif.

"If you wanted to impress your girlfriend you bought a couple of tickets to Disneyland," says Moreno, who had no plans at that point to return to Arkansas.

Moreno started college as a psychology major, then changed to physics, he says, which he says was "too dry."

Geology, which captured and kept his attention, has changed drastically since he entered it, when most of the work was done with manual calculations and visual inspections.

"Every geologist in the world wants to find the gold mine or the silver mine or the oil or whatever," he says. "We all have our dreams of becoming immediately wealthy. Unfortunately, in today's world, there are no such thing as prospectors on the ground. That's how I learned to do it when I first got out of college, but now everything is done by remote-sensing."

He prefers the old ways, and isn't sure he would have become a geologist in light of those changes.

He met his wife, Anne, while working in California, and they lived for a while in Arizona before moving to Maumelle to be near her family.

In Maumelle, Moreno got involved with AARP, first as a member, then as a lobbyist, helping raise awareness about covid vaccines and health care policies, and he shares information about the AARP's tax preparation service.

"You can have them do your taxes and it's free," he says. "I just go to the Maumelle Library -- you show up with your paperwork and they take that and you go home. They check it all out and file electronically for you."

Moreno has led classes at the Maumelle Community Center on geology topics and served on the Maumelle Tree Board, tasked with maintaining that city's Tree City USA status. He ran for city councilman in Maumelle, too.

"I didn't campaign," he says. "I just wanted to learn how it works."

But, he says, his interests didn't turn from geology to politics -- it was the opposite.

"It's actually from politics to geology," he says. "I was in college, doing very well, and I got drafted. So I got to thinking, 'Wait a minute, I think I'll start paying attention to politics because politics is affecting me more than any other thing. I ended up on the river boats in Vietnam."

Moreno was wounded by shrapnel four and a half months into his service, when his riverboat was hit by a rocket. He was sent to a hospital in Japan, and then transferred back to San Diego.

If you have an interesting story about an Arkansan 70 or older, please call (501) 425-7228 or email:

  photo  James Moreno, 74, started paying attention to politics after he was drafted during the Vietnam War. He was injured when a rocket hit the Navy riverboat he was in, and he was hospitalized in Japan before being sent back to San Diego. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette)

Print Headline: Retired geologist tracked California’s seismic faults


Sponsor Content