SHS junior wins national science award

When Marley Iredale tells people about her science project, it isn't long before predictable wisecracks start.

"Guess it's time to head to higher ground, huh?"

But the Sequim High School junior's project is anything but a joke, particularly to the science community.

Iredale's "Evaluating Tsunami Risk in Discovery Bay, Washington" project took two top prizes at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair 2009 in Reno, Nev., May 10-15.

Her hands-on project - one that saw her taking 3-meter-long samples of sediment from Discovery Bay - indicates a 60-percent to 80-percent chance the bay and nearby residents will see a tsunami between 2010 and 2040.

"Getting that number was staggering," Iredale says.

"I'd never thought of that before. It's mind-boggling ... and reading how unprepared we are."

Two years ago, two other Sequim students were prepared to take on a similar project but dropped it. Iredale, urged on by science mentor Ron Tognazzini, a civic engineer and former president of Los Angeles County science fairs, decided to pursue it.

A study in 2000 spearheaded by Harry Williams of the University of North Texas had similar goals, but his was restricted by wood debris from the Port Discovery Mill. That site was excavated in 2008, allowing more access to the marsh.

Iredale got her feet wet - literally - by extracting 14 bores (samples) using a gouge auger, an instrument designed to take undisturbed samples from soft, wet soils.

The bay, Iredale wrote in an abstract for her project, has no sand bar, and the marsh at its head is a "trap" for tsunami sediments.

That's unlike the rest of Washington's coast, which mostly is lined with rocky beaches or cliffs.

Research indicated that the so-called Cascadia earthquake in January 1700 recorded by Japanese historians generated widespread tsunami waves, leaving evidence in Discovery Bay.

Using the evidence from samples and conferring with University of Washington professor Brian Atwater, a geologist from the U.S. Geological Survey and author of a book about the tsunamis of 1700, Iredale found the probability of a tsunami from Cascadia Subduction Zone-generated tremors, regional earthquakes or landslides by 2040 is better than 50 percent.

"It's kind of frightening," she says.

Then she had to compel the judges in Reno. The Intel International Science and Engineering Fair is sponsored by Society for Science & the Public (www. Since its inception in 1950, it has brought some of the top minds in fields such as chemistry, environmental science and mathematics to judge student projects.

Iredale's project already had won the top prize at the Washington state science fair in April. Traveling with 10 other top science students from the state, she presented her project for two full days of judging in Reno.

On the second day of judging, she recalls, one judge "bashed" her project, saying he didn't believe her final assertions.

"I didn't think it was going well - I was not really feeling good about it," Iredale says.

But in the end her project was chosen for top prizes on each day, winning the Earth & Planetary Sciences division first prize and grand prize.

The two prizes totaled $8,000 in cash, a new laptop and a $1,000 award for her school.

Iredale is the first student from Washington to win a top prize from the international fair.

"She has written a scientific report and one of the best journals I have seen in the last 20 years," Tognazzini says, "but the awards were based on her oral presentation and ability to demonstrate her depth of understanding of the topic she investigated."

Iredale says she's putting the money away for college - most of it, anyway.

With such scientific success at such a young age, one might assume Iredale seeks a career in geology.

Not necessarily, says the high school junior

"I'm trying to explore a lot of fields before I decide," Iredale says.

Her true passion lies with helping animals. Iredale works at the Pacific Northwest Veterinary Hospital in Sequim 15 hours a week, rides horses and is eyeing a career in veterinary medicine.

"I love animals," she says.

"It sounds so cliché."

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