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Stephen Cronin

7th Grade, Saint Catherine of Siena Catholic School
Norwood, MA

Stephen explored whether a flexible curtain surrounding an ice shelf could slow its melting by blocking incoming warm water.

Glacier Geoengineering

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Project Background

“I have been interested in the environment and climate change since I was in elementary school,” Stephen says. During the summers, he often took trips to the Columbus Zoo. The polar bear exhibit shows time-lapse photographs of glaciers melting, Stephen says. “This grabbed my attention and stuck with me.” So he decided to see if a geoengineering approach could slow the melting of ice shelves, the floating ice sheets that border glaciers and polar land masses. Ultimately, he’d like to help preserve Thwaites Glacier, whose collapse could trigger a huge rise in sea level.

Tactics and Results

Stephen thought a flexible curtain surrounding an ice shelf might block incoming warm ocean water, slowing melting. For the experiment, Stephen filled two aquarium tanks with water. Each had an ice block sitting on cinder blocks at one end, and a heater on the other end. He placed thermometers on each side. In the experimental tank, a curtain made of a silicone zip top bag holding sand and air sat in the center. Stephen attached fishing bobbers to make the top float and anchored the curtain in the tank with Command hooks. After turning on the heaters in both tanks, Stephen recorded temperatures every 15 minutes. During the five trials, the control tank’s water temperatures were about the same at both ends while the curtain tank’s water stayed much warmer near the heater. The model ice shelf also melted faster in the control tank in all but one trial. “Building a geoengineered curtain could help buy us more time as the world transitions to renewable energy,” Stephen says.  

2023 Thermo Fisher JIC Finalist Stephen Cronin

Beyond the Project

A better understanding of how water freezes and melts could reduce potential sources of error, Stephen says. He would also like to contact glaciologists who are studying ice shelf curtains. He hopes “to share my project and thank them for inspiring me!”

Other interests

Stephen enjoys playing ice hockey and baseball competitively. “It is a lot to balance with academics,” he says, but it’s worth it. “Athletics has taught me to set goals, stay positive and pursue your dreams.” Stephen hopes to become an environmental engineer. “I like to solve problems using science and math,” he says.

2023 Thermo Fisher JIC Finalist Stephen Cronin