Why a Northbrook teacher spent 6 weeks on a Russian icebreaker

When West Leyden High School science teacher Jon Pazol takes his work home with him, it best be wrapped in a waterproof binder.

Pazol, of Northbrook, was part of a team this past summer that did research on leatherback turtles in Costa Rica.

Twelve years ago he joined a research team on a U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker from Alaska to the Canadian arctic, mapping the ocean floor with Project Armada.

Possibly saving the best for last in his 33rd and final year at West Leyden, for six weeks spanning September and October Pazol joined an international science party aboard an Russian icebreaker in the Siberian arctic. The project: the Nansen and Amundsen Basins Observational System (NABOS).

One of 11 educators selected in a nationwide search to participate in PolarTREC (Teachers and Researchers Exploring and Collaborating), Pazol assisted in researching the interactions of fresh and saltwater ocean currents, and climate change.

“The whole point of the expedition was to collect data, and the data is showing that the Arctic is rapidly changing. The data is showing long-term changes since 2002 in different properties of Arctic Ocean water, both in the amount of warming and the mixing of the various layers of the Arctic Ocean,” he said.

“Because of the changes in the different levels of mixing, that's changing the circulation patterns in the Arctic, which then because the Arctic Ocean feeds into the Atlantic Ocean, it changes the circulation patterns of the Atlantic — which then has significant effects on weather patterns and overall, long-term climate.”

After a 10-day quarantine period outside of Oslo, Norway, Pazol embarked with 25 others in the science party plus 60 Russian crew members aboard the RV Akademic Tryoshnikov. The expedition, led by Dr. Igor Polyakov of the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, lasted from Sept. 10-Oct. 19, and Pazol was back in Northbrook by Oct. 22.

Pazol, 55, was part of the “water chemistry team,” he said. Sometimes working just a couple hours, other times working 16 hours straight, the team submerged a large piece of equipment called a CTD Rosette as deep as 3,000 meters, and it collected water samples at different levels as it returned to the surface. The scientists then tested the water for various nutrients, radium and chemical isotopes. Samples were shipped back to scientists in Alaska for further analysis.

They also used other sets of equipment, called “moorings,” that collected data for a longer period of time. The team recovered 1 mooring that had been sunk in 2018, and sent eight others to the deep.

“All of those things give you a snapshot of what the water looks like and where the water is coming from,” Pazol said.

He has no doubt that the data shows that warming is occurring, and of mankind's impact on it due to greenhouse gas emissions.

“What we're seeing now since the Industrial Revolution is that the cyclical pattern is going up and up and up,” he said. “ ... And the changes are happening faster than ever recorded.”

Despite limited internet access Pazol was nonetheless able to put through live video calls to his class from Norway and from the Tryoshnikov. His science students also followed his nearly daily blogs on

Pazol saw polar bears and had a front-row seat for Northern Lights displays. His favorite part was simply being out on the ice surface.

“Just the experience of being out in the Arctic is pretty awe-inspiring. It's such a remote and stark landscape,” he said.

These opportunities in the field benefit both teachers' growth as well as their students, said Pazol, who appreciated the support of Leyden High School District 212 and PolarTREC, funded by the National Science Foundation.

“I don't know what I'd like to do when I grow up,” he said, jokingly, but after retirement Pazol may look to get students involved in field research with fellow scientists.

“When I was 16 — I grew up in Ohio — if someone had told me I'd spend three months in the Arctic on an icebreaker I'd say they were crazy,” Pazol said.

“I want my students to be able to see there are some really cool opportunities out there.”

West Leyden teacher and Northbrook resident Jon Pazol stands on the deck of the RV Akademic Tryoshnikov, surrounded by the stark Arctic landscape. Courtesy of Jon Pazol
A CTC Rosette is hoisted onto the ship as the sun sets. Courtesy of Jon Pazol
Jon Pazol reports the details of his adventures in the Arctic in remote sessions with his science students at West Leyden High School. Courtesy of Jon Pazol
Jon Pazol and Russian scientist Natasha Alekseeva collect samples recovered by the CTD Rosette. Courtesy of Jon Pazol
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