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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Megafires: The New Normal In The Southwest
5:20 am
Sun August 26, 2012

'Torture Lab' Kills Trees To Learn How To Save Them

Powers walks along plastic gutters designed to keep rain away from tree roots to simulate drought. Scientists here are studying the effects of sustained drought conditions on the tree species of the Southwest.
David Gilkey NPR

Originally published on Sun August 26, 2012 6:03 pm

Last of a five-part series

The droughts that have parched big regions of the country are killing forests.

In the arid Southwest, the body count is especially high. Besides trying to keep wildfires from burning up these desiccated forests, there's not much anyone can do. In fact, scientists are only now figuring out how drought affects trees.

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Megafires: The New Normal In The Southwest
2:54 pm
Fri August 24, 2012

Is It Too Late To Defuse The Danger Of Megafires?

Timmons and Springer work in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests, which were burned during last year's Wallow Fire. The largest fire in Arizona history, Wallow barreled through a half-million acres of forest.
David Gilkey NPR

Originally published on Fri August 24, 2012 7:47 pm

Fourth in a five-part series

Forests in the Southwest have become a fuel stockpile. A century of U.S. Forest Service policy of quashing all fires has allowed forests to become overgrown, and now a warming climate is making the problem worse.

Scientists are trying to defuse these green time bombs. Is it too late?

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Megafires: The New Normal In The Southwest
3:18 am
Fri August 24, 2012

In Southwest, Worst-Case Fire Scenario Plays Out

Craig Allen, left, a research ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, and Jorge Castro, a visiting professor of ecology from Spain, survey a plateau ravaged during last year's Las Conchas fire in New Mexico. The megafire burned over 150,000 acres of forest.
David Gilkey NPR

Originally published on Fri August 24, 2012 7:48 pm

Third of a five-part series

As the Earth's average temperature creeps upward, climate scientists have predicted record heat waves and droughts. That's what we've seen this summer in the U.S.

The question has become, are we now seeing the real damage climate change can do?

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Megafires: The New Normal In The Southwest
2:51 pm
Thu August 23, 2012

Why Forest-Killing Megafires Are The New Normal

Jorge Castro, a visiting professor of ecology from Spain, sips water in the shade of a burnt tree in New Mexico's Bandelier Wilderness area, adjacent to the Bandelier National Monument. This site was devastated by last year's Las Conchas fire.
David Gilkey NPR

Originally published on Sun August 26, 2012 9:46 am

Second of a five-part series

Fire scientists are calling it "the new normal": a time of fires so big and hot that no one can remember anything like it.

One of the scientists who coined that term is Craig Allen. I drive with him to New Mexico's Bandelier National Monument, where he works for the U.S. Geological Survey. We take a dirt road up into the Jemez Mountains, into a landscape of black poles as far as you can see.

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Megafires: The New Normal In The Southwest
3:17 am
Thu August 23, 2012

How The Smokey Bear Effect Led To Raging Wildfires

Adams (left) talks with Swetnam in their laboratory, nestled under the football stadium.
David Gilkey NPR

Originally published on Fri August 24, 2012 7:50 pm

First of a five-part series

The history of fire in the American Southwest is buried in a catacomb of rooms under the bleachers of the football stadium at the University of Arizona.

Here rules professor Thomas Swetnam, tree ring expert. You want to read a tree ring? You go to Tom. He's a big, burly guy with a beard and a true love for trees.

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Environment
3:19 am
Thu August 9, 2012

Building For Birds: Architects Aim For Safer Skies

Architect Guy Maxwell holds a printout of his proposed design for the new Bridge Building at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
John W. Poole NPR

Originally published on Thu August 9, 2012 1:07 pm

Second of a two-part series. Read Part 1.

Modern architecture's love affair with tall glass buildings takes a toll. Every year, millions of birds crash into glass windows in North America.

These collisions may seem like an intractable problem. But in New York City, an architect is trying to find a solution.

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Environment
3:15 am
Wed August 8, 2012

A Clear And Present Danger: How Glass Kills Birds

Experts say glass buildings kill millions of birds every year. Scientists at Powdermill Avian Research Center are studying ways to help prevent this. Here, a volunteer tags a black hooded warbler in Rector, Pa., in May.
Maggie Starbard NPR

Originally published on Tue December 4, 2012 12:05 pm

First of a two-part series. Read Part 2.

Modern architecture loves glass. Glass makes interiors brighter and adds sparkle to cityscapes. But glass also kills millions of birds every year when they collide with windows. Biologists say as more glass buildings go up, more birds are dying.

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Environment
6:17 pm
Mon August 6, 2012

Are Recent Heat Waves A Result Of Climate Change?

Cattle use a tree for shade as temperatures rose above 100 degrees in a pasture July 28, 2011, near Canadian, Texas.
Scott Olson Getty Images

Originally published on Mon August 6, 2012 6:51 pm

The last couple of years have certainly felt unusually hot in many parts of the U.S., but are they really all that unusual?

Many people wonder whether a warming climate is turning up the temperature or whether it's all just part of the normal variation in the weather. Among scientists, there's a growing view that these latest heat waves are indeed a result of climate change.

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Humans
3:20 am
Fri July 13, 2012

In Ancient Ore. Dump, Clues To The First Americans?

Displayed in the hand of University of Oregon archaeologist Dennis Jenkins are three bases for western stemmed projectiles from the Paisley Caves in Oregon. The bases date to some 13,000 years ago.
Jim Barlow Science/AAAS

Originally published on Tue July 17, 2012 10:16 am

Some of the most interesting discoveries in archaeology come from sifting through ancient garbage dumps. Scientists working in Oregon have found one that has yielded what they say are the oldest human remains in the Americas and a puzzle about the earliest American tools.

Early Americans used Oregon's Paisley Caves for, among other things, a toilet. Little did they know that scientists would be picking through what they left behind.

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Science
4:46 am
Wed June 20, 2012

Man-Made Earthquakes Get Geologists' Attention

Originally published on Wed June 20, 2012 10:16 am

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Geologists have noticed a remarkable increase in the number of small earthquakes in the U.S. They suspect the cause to be waste water wells. That's where polluted water from industrial processes is pumped deep underground. Now, none of the quakes have caused serious damage. But as NPR's Christopher Joyce reports, the seismic spike casts doubt on plans to bury underground all sorts of unwanted stuff.

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The Salt
11:23 am
Mon June 18, 2012

Desert Plant's Potent Chemical Cocktail Makes Mice Go 'Ptooey'

Spiny mice eat the fruit of the mignonette bush but spit out the seeds
Michal Samuni-Blank Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.

Next time you're in the Negev Desert and you come across a sweet mignonette bush, stop and listen. You might hear a tiny "Ptooey" from somewhere underneath.

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Humans
4:07 am
Fri June 15, 2012

Famous Cave Paintings Might Not Be From Humans

The Panel of Hands in the Cave of El Castillo in Spain. New dating methods suggest the paintings could have been drawn by Neanderthals, not humans, as previously thought.
Pedro Saura AAAS/Science

Originally published on Thu March 27, 2014 9:33 am

The famous paintings on the walls of caves in Europe mark the beginning of figurative art and a great leap forward for human culture.

But now a novel method of determining the age of some of those cave paintings questions their provenance. Not that they're fakes — only that it might not have been modern humans who made them.

The first European cave paintings are thought to have been made over 30,000 years ago. Most depict animals and hunters. Some of the eeriest are stencils of human hands, apparently made by blowing a spray of pigment over a hand held up to a wall.

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Energy
5:12 am
Wed June 13, 2012

Ruling Could Help Break The Nuclear-Waste Logjam

About 70,000 tons of used nuclear fuel sits mostly at power plants across the country. Much is kept underwater in spent fuel pools, but utility companies have been moving the fuel into concrete and steel casks like these in Richland, Wash. Energy Northwest CEO Vic Parrish (center) tours the facility with Reps. Doc Hastings (left) and Jay Inslee.
Shannon Dininny AP

Originally published on Wed June 13, 2012 12:43 pm

The federal government promised almost 30 years ago to find a place to bury nuclear waste from power plants. It hasn't. So the waste is piling up at power plants around the country.

Now a federal court says the government must prove that this temporary solution is truly safe. The decision could help break the nuclear-waste logjam.

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Science
3:17 pm
Fri June 8, 2012

Is Japanese Dock A Noah's Ark Or A Trojan Horse?

Among the creatures that survived the trans-Pacific trek aboard the Japanese dock was this sea star, which was found inside the float.
Jessica Miller flickr

Originally published on Fri June 8, 2012 6:59 pm

A bizarre event has drawn scientists to a beach in Oregon — a floating concrete dock from Japan has washed ashore. It had been ripped from its moorings by last year's tsunami and floated across the Pacific.

The dock is encrusted with mussels, barnacles and other marine life from Asia. Scientists are amazed these organisms survived the 14-month voyage, but they're also worried some of these organisms could become pests in U.S. waters.

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The Fracking Boom: Missing Answers
12:10 pm
Mon May 14, 2012

With Gas Boom, Pennsylvania Fears New Toxic Legacy

NPR

Originally published on Wed May 23, 2012 10:55 am

In Pennsylvania, there's an industrial revolution going on. Battalions of drilling rigs are boring into the earth to extract natural gas from an underground layer of shale called the Marcellus formation.

And as the wells multiply all along the western end of the state, people worry they may be facing another toxic legacy.

The first one came from coal mining. All over the state, you can see bright orange rivers and streams. The aquatic life was killed by acidic runoff from abandoned mines.

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Humans
6:23 am
Sun May 13, 2012

Mayan Artwork Uncovered In A Guatemalan Forest

Conservator Angelyn Bass cleans and stabilizes the surface of a wall of a Mayan house that dates to the ninth century. The figure of a man who may have been the town scribe appears on the wall to her left.
Tyrone Turner Copyright 2012 National Geographic

Originally published on Tue May 15, 2012 5:27 pm

Archaeologists working in one of the most impenetrable rain forests in Guatemala have stumbled on a remarkable discovery: a room full of wall paintings and numerical calculations.

The buried room apparently was a workshop used by scribes or astronomers working for a Mayan king. The paintings depict the king and members of his court. The numbers mark important periods in the Mayan calendar.

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Shots - Health Blog
2:38 am
Mon May 7, 2012

'Wired To Run': Runner's High May Have Been Evolutionary Advantage

Researchers say our brains are probably wired from an evolutionary sense to encourage running and high aerobic activities. Above, a man runs past the Sydney Harbour Bridge on April 22.
Ryan Pierse Getty Images

Originally published on Thu March 27, 2014 9:45 am

Endurance athletes sometimes say they're "addicted" to exercise. In fact, scientists have shown that rhythmic, continuous exercise — aerobic exercise — can in fact produce narcoticlike chemicals in the body.

Now researchers suggest that those chemicals may have helped turn humans, as well as other animals, into long-distance runners.

The man behind the research is University of Arizona anthropologist David Raichlen, a runner himself. He does about 25 miles a week.

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Animals
6:04 am
Sun May 6, 2012

The Dinosaurs' Nemeses: Giant, Jurassic Fleas

An illustration of the Chinese Jurassic "pseudo-flea," which lived in the Middle Jurassic in northeastern China.
Wang Cheng Current Biology

Originally published on Sun May 6, 2012 11:38 am

Fossil-hunting scientists are coming to grips with a new discovery that could change forever how we think of dinosaurs. What they've found is that dinosaurs may well have been tortured by large, flealike bloodsucking insects.

Yes, it appears that the greatest predators that ever roamed Earth suffered just as we mammals did — and as we still do. Fleas were thought to have evolved along with mammals — they like our soft skins and a diet of warm blood.

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Energy
3:14 am
Thu April 12, 2012

Scientists Link Rise In Quakes To Wastewater Wells

Originally published on Fri April 13, 2012 10:22 am

Scientists who watch for earthquakes have discovered a big increase in the number of small quakes in the middle of the country. It's an area that's usually pretty quiet geologically.

The scientists suspect the quakes are caused by wastewater wells. They plan to discuss their findings later this month at a seismology conference, but they've shared the basics with NPR.

Bill Ellsworth, a seismologist at the U.S. Geological Survey, says new technology over the past decade has given scientists a much better feel for when the Earth shakes.

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Energy
3:08 pm
Wed April 11, 2012

Quakes Caused By Waste From Gas Wells, Study Finds

A water truck heads up Colorado Road 215 along Parachute Creek. Water is key to extracting natural gas from deep underground.
David Gilkey NPR

The U.S. Geological Survey will soon confirm that the oil and gas industry is creating earthquakes, and new data from the Midwest finds that these man-made quakes are happening more often than originally thought.

Earthquakes happen when faults in the Earth slip and slide against each other. There's continuous stress on innumerable faults on our continent, but seismologists like Bill Ellsworth, from the U.S. Geological Survey, started seeing something odd about 12 years ago.

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Animals
3:39 pm
Thu April 5, 2012

A 'Warm And Fuzzy' Dino? (Yes, But Mind The Teeth)

An artist's impression of a group of Yutyrannus. The 30-foot-long dinosaurs were covered with downy feathers — likely to keep the animals warm.
Dr. Brian Choo Nature

Thirty feet long and weighing in at around 3,000 pounds, Yutyrannus huali goes by the nickname "beautiful feathered tyrant." Yutyrannus earned the name "tyrant" because it casually ripped its prey to pieces. But it was also a snappy dresser: The huge predator was covered in downy feathers.

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Environment
3:35 am
Thu April 5, 2012

Shake It Off: Earth's Wobble May Have Ended Ice Age

A wobbling of the Earth on its axis about 20,000 years ago may have kicked off a beginning to the end of the last ice age. Glaciers in the Arctic and Greenland began to melt, which resulted in a warming of the Earth, a new study says. Above, Greenland's Russell Glacier, seen in 1990.
Veronique Durruty Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

Originally published on Thu April 5, 2012 9:25 am

The last big ice age ended about 11,000 years ago, and not a moment too soon — it made a lot more of the world livable, at least for humans.

But exactly what caused the big thaw isn't clear, and new research suggests that a wobble in the Earth kicked off a complicated process that changed the whole planet.

Ice tells the history of the Earth's climate: Air bubbles in ice reveal what the atmosphere was like and what the temperature was. And scientists can read this ice, even if it's been buried for thousands of years.

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Environment
5:25 pm
Wed April 4, 2012

Pollution Playing A Major Role In Sea Temperatures

This NASA map shows the size of aerosol particles in the atmosphere. Green areas indicate larger, more naturally occurring particles like dust. Red areas indicate smaller aerosol particles, which can come from fossil fuels and fires. Yellow areas indicate a mix of large and small particles.
NASA Earth Observations

Originally published on Wed April 4, 2012 6:20 pm

The Atlantic Ocean, especially the North Atlantic, is peculiar: Every few decades, the average temperature of surface water there changes dramatically.

Scientists want to know why that is, especially because these temperature shifts affect the weather. New research suggests that human activity is part of the cause.

Scientists originally thought that maybe some mysterious pattern in deep-ocean currents, such as an invisible hand stirring a giant bathtub, created this temperature see-saw.

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Energy
12:01 am
Mon March 12, 2012

Power Grid Must Adapt To Handle Renewable Energy

Towers carry electrical lines in San Francisco. The electricity grid is a web of power stations, transformers and transmission lines that span the continent.
Justin Sullivan Getty Images

Originally published on Mon March 12, 2012 11:08 am

The National Academy of Engineering in Washington, D.C., once asked its members to pick the greatest engineering achievement ever.

Their choice? The electrification of the country through what's known as "the grid."

Ernest Moniz, director of the Energy Institute at MIT, says they were right on the money.

"That reflects what an amazing machine this is, spread out geographically, always having to balance demand and supply because electricity is not stored," he says.

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Rebuilding Japan
6:23 am
Sun March 11, 2012

Nuclear Woes Push Japan Into A New Energy Future

A liquefied natural gas tanker arrives at a gas storage station east of Tokyo on April 6, 2009. The shuttering of Japan's nuclear power plants has driven an increased reliance on natural gas and other fossil fuels.
AFP/Getty Images

The tsunami that struck Japan last year destroyed four nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power station on the east coast of the country. Radiation spread through the air and into the ocean, and workers labored for weeks to quench the melting reactor cores. Farmland and numerous towns were evacuated and much remains off-limits.

Since then, Japan has been temporarily shutting down its remaining nuclear plants as the public debates whether to swear off nuclear power permanently. But saying no to nuclear has been and will continue to be costly.

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