Christopher Joyce

Christopher Joyce is a correspondent on the science desk at NPR. His stories can be heard on all of NPR's news programs, including NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition.

Joyce seeks out stories in some of the world's most inaccessible places. He has reported from remote villages in the Amazon and Central American rainforests, Tibetan outposts in the mountains of western China, and the bottom of an abandoned copper mine in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Over the course of his career, Joyce has written stories about volcanoes, hurricanes, human evolution, tagging giant blue-fin tuna, climate change, wars in Kosovo and Iraq and the artificial insemination of an African elephant.

For several years, Joyce was an editor and correspondent for NPR's Radio Expeditions, a documentary program on natural history and disappearing cultures produced in collaboration with the National Geographic Society that was heard frequently on Morning Edition.

Joyce came to NPR in 1993 as a part-time editor while finishing a book about tropical rainforests and, as he says, "I just fell in love with radio." For two years, Joyce worked on NPR's national desk and was responsible for NPR's Western coverage. But his interest in science and technology soon launched him into parallel work on NPR's science desk.

In addition, Joyce has written two non-fiction books on scientific topics for the popular market: Witnesses from the Grave: The Stories Bones Tell (with co-author Eric Stover); and Earthly Goods: Medicine-Hunting in the Rainforest.

Before coming to NPR, Joyce worked for ten years as the U.S. correspondent and editor for the British weekly magazine New Scientist.

Joyce's stories on forensic investigations into the massacres in Kosovo and Bosnia were part of NPR's war coverage that won a 1999 Overseas Press Club award. He was part of the Radio Expeditions reporting and editing team that won the 2001 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University journalism award and the 2001 Sigma Delta Chi award from the Society of Professional Journalists. Joyce won the 2001 American Association for the Advancement of Science excellence in journalism award.

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The Two-Way
2:18 pm
Wed July 24, 2013

Why The Latest Gulf Leak Is No BP Disaster

Fire boats battle a fire at the off shore oil rig Deepwater Horizon in April 2010.
U.S. Coast Guard Getty Images

Originally published on Wed July 24, 2013 3:06 pm

Teams of workers are mobilizing in the Gulf of Mexico to try to stem a natural gas leak at an offshore drilling rig that exploded and caught fire Tuesday. The rig off the Louisiana coast has been partially destroyed by the out of control blaze, and firefighting boats are on the scene.

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Environment
3:30 am
Sun July 21, 2013

Fighting Fire With Fire: Why Some Burns Are Good For Nature

An arborist from the Montana Conservation Corps works to clear pine trees from land in Centennial Valley, Mont.
John W. Poole NPR

Originally published on Sun July 21, 2013 11:50 am

Wildfires were once essential to the American West. Prairies and forests burned regularly, and those fires not only determined the mix of flora and fauna that made up the ecosystem, but they regenerated the land.

When people replaced wilderness with homes and ranches, they aggressively eliminated fire. But now, scientists are trying to bring fire back to the wilderness, to recreate what nature once did on its own.

One place they're doing this is Centennial Valley, in southwestern Montana.

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Environment
1:24 pm
Thu July 18, 2013

Wildfires Will Worsen, And Further Strain The Forest Service

An aircraft lays down a line of fire retardant between a wildfire and homes in the dry, densely wooded Black Forest area northeast of Colorado Springs, Colo., on June 13.
John Wark AP

Originally published on Thu July 18, 2013 8:13 pm

The deaths of 19 firefighters near Yarnell, Ariz., this summer have focused a lot of attention on just how bad wildfire has become in the West. And research predicts the situation is going to get worse.

Over the past decade, the region has seen some of the worst fire seasons on record. In addition to lives lost, the fires have cost billions in terms of lost property and in taxpayer money spent fighting the blazes.

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Animals
12:16 am
Tue July 16, 2013

Om Nom Nom: T. Rex Was, Indeed, A Voracious Hunter

Mind The Teeth: Fossils indicate that Tyrannosaurus rex was an active hunter, in addition to being a scavenger. And in Jurassic Park, it also had a sweet tooth for lawyers.
Universal Pictures Getty Images

Originally published on Tue July 16, 2013 7:44 am

Tyrannosaurus rex is perhaps one of the most famous animals to have ever roamed the Earth. This huge, fierce meat-eater has graced Hollywood films as the perpetual villain, and it has played a notorious role in the science community that studies it, too.

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Environment
1:43 pm
Thu July 11, 2013

Wastewater Wells, Geothermal Power Triggering Earthquakes

A geothermal energy plant near the Salton Sea in California taps deep underground heat from the southern San Andreas Fault rift zone. A new study ties the amount of water pulled from the ground by the geothermal plant here to the frequency of earthquakes.
David McNew Getty Images

Originally published on Thu July 11, 2013 2:55 pm

The continental U.S. experiences small earthquakes every day. But over the past few years, their numbers have been increasing. Geoscientists say the new epidemic of quakes is related to industrial wastewater being pumped into underground storage wells.

Now there's new research that reveals two trigger mechanisms that may be setting off these wastewater quakes — other, larger earthquakes (some as far away as Indonesia), and the activity at geothermal power plants.

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Environment
12:01 am
Thu July 11, 2013

Saving One Species At The Expense Of Another

Antelopes stand at alert at the presence of a human visitor in the sparsely populated Centennial Valley of Montana.
John W. Poole NPR

Originally published on Thu July 18, 2013 1:52 pm

To keep America's wilderness anything like it used to be when the country was truly wild takes the help of biologists. They have to balance the needs of wildlife with those of cattle-ranching and tourism, and even weigh the value of one species against another. Ultimately, they have to pick and choose who makes it onto the ark. And, as scientists in Montana's Centennial Valley have discovered, all that choosing can be tricky.

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Environment
12:01 am
Wed July 10, 2013

In Montana Wilds, An Unlikely Alliance To Save The Sage Grouse

Bryan Ulring (left), ranch hand Graham Fulton (right) and Nature Conservancy ecologist Nathan Korb (center) install a pipe on a new well dug for the cattle Ulring manages for J Bar L Ranch. The ranch is working with The Nature Conservancy to try to preserve sage grouse habitat.
John W. Poole NPR

Originally published on Wed July 10, 2013 10:46 am

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Science
3:19 pm
Wed June 5, 2013

Tiny, Ancient Tree-Dweller Was One of Earth's Earliest Primates

Artistic reconstruction of Archicebus achilles in its natural habitat of trees.
Xijun Ni Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences

Originally published on Wed June 5, 2013 3:59 pm

The origin of the first primates — the group that includes humans, apes and monkeys — is thought to lie in the deep past, about 55 million years ago.

Fossils from that period are rare. But now, there's an exciting new one. It's called Archicebus achilles, roughly meaning "beginning long-tailed monkey." Actually, this creature lived before the monkeys we know of today, a mere 10 million years after the dinosaurs died out.

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Animals
2:00 am
Fri May 31, 2013

Big-Mouthed Toucans Key To Forest Evolution

Channel-billed toucans are important seed dispersers in rain forests.
Courtesy of Lindolfo Souto AAAS/Science

Originally published on Fri May 31, 2013 5:34 am

Brazil is a paradise for birds; the country has more than 1,700 species. Among them is the colorful toucan, a bird with an almost comically giant bill that can be half as long as its body. There are lots of different types of toucan — red-breasted, channel-billed, keel-billed, saffron toucanet — each with its own color-scheme and distinctive call.

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Environment
12:35 pm
Tue May 14, 2013

With Rising Seas, America's Birthplace Could Disappear

Colonists built the original glass-blowing kiln in Jamestown, Va., at this beach for easy access to the sand. Now the site is just inches above the water level.
John W. Poole NPR

Originally published on Tue May 14, 2013 4:15 pm

By the end of the century, the birthplace of America may be underwater.

The first successful English colony in America was at Jamestown, Va., a swampy island in the Chesapeake Bay. The colony endured for almost a century, and remnants of the place still exist. You can go there and see the ruins. You can walk where Capt. John Smith and Pocahontas walked. But Jamestown is now threatened by rising sea levels that scientists say could submerge the island by century's end.

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The Salt
3:40 pm
Wed May 1, 2013

Bones Tell Tale Of Desperation Among The Starving At Jamestown

The four cuts at the top of this skull "are clear chops to the forehead," says Smithsonian forensic anthropologist Douglas Owsley. Based on forensic evidence, researchers think the blows were made after the person died.
Donald E. Hurlbert Smithsonian

Originally published on Wed May 1, 2013 4:48 pm

"First they ate their horses, and then fed upon their dogs and cats, as well as rats, mice and snakes."

So says James Horn of the historical group Colonial Williamsburg, paraphrasing an account by colony leader George Percy of what conditions were like for the hundreds of men and women stranded in Jamestown, Va., with little food in the dead of winter in 1609.

They even ate their shoes. And, apparently, at least one person.

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Shots - Health News
1:43 pm
Tue April 30, 2013

How Doctors Would Know If Syrians Were Hit With Nerve Gas

Doctors at a hospital in Aleppo, Syria, treat a boy injured in what the government said was a chemical weapons attack on March 19. Syria's government and rebels accused each other of firing a rocket loaded with chemical agents outside of Aleppo.
George Ourfalian Reuters/Landov

Originally published on Wed May 1, 2013 9:02 am

President Obama affirmed Tuesday that there's evidence Syrians have been attacked with chemical weapons — in particular, nerve gas.

But that's not the same as proof positive.

"We don't know how they were used, when they were used, who used them," Obama said. "We don't have a chain of custody that establishes what exactly happened."

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Animals
2:33 pm
Thu March 28, 2013

What's Behind The 'Fairy Circles' That Dot West Africa?

Thousands of "fairy circles" dot the landscape of the NamibRand Nature Reserve in Namibia. Why these barren circles appear in grassland areas has puzzled scientists for years.
N. Juergens AAAS/Science

Originally published on Thu March 28, 2013 4:19 pm

There's a mystery in West Africa that's puzzled scientists for years. Strange circles of bare soil appear in grassland; they're commonly called "fairy circles." These naturally occurring shapes last for decades, until the grass eventually takes over and the circles fade.

Now German scientists think they have an explanation — a horde of insects seems to be bioengineering thousands of miles of desert.

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Energy
1:30 pm
Wed March 27, 2013

Is The Sky The Limit For Wind Power?

Wind turbines at the San Gorgonio Pass Wind Farm in Whitewater, Calif., in 2012.
Bloomberg via Getty Images

Originally published on Wed March 27, 2013 6:55 pm

Wind power is growing faster than ever — almost half of the new sources of electricity added to the U.S. power grid last year were wind farms.

But is the sky the limit? Several scientists now say it's actually possible to have so many turbines that they start to lose power. They steal each other's wind.

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Energy
2:12 am
Fri March 15, 2013

Could Tapping Undersea Methane Lead To A New Gas Boom?

This photo from a Kyodo News helicopter shows a flame of natural gas from a Japanese deep-sea drilling ship on Tuesday. This successful extraction of methane from the seafloor was a world first.
Kyodo Landov

Originally published on Fri March 15, 2013 7:38 am

The new boom in natural gas from shale has changed the energy economy of the United States. But there's another giant reservoir of natural gas that lies under the ocean floor that, theoretically, could dwarf the shale boom.

No one had tapped this gas from the seabed until this week, when Japanese engineers pulled some up through a well from under the Pacific. The gas at issue here is called methane hydrate. Methane is natural gas; hydrate means there's water in it. In this case, the molecules of gas are trapped inside a sort of cage of water molecules.

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