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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Humans
4:54 pm
Thu October 17, 2013

Fossil Find Points To A Streamlined Human Lineage

Researchers excavated the remains of five creatures who lived 1.8 million years ago, including this adult male skull. The excavation site, in Georgia in the former Soviet Union, was home to a remarkable cache of bones.
Courtesy of Georgian National Museum

Originally published on Fri October 18, 2013 4:35 pm

Fossils of human ancestors are rare. You could pile all the ones that scientists have found in the back of a pickup truck.

But a remarkable site in Georgia, in the former Soviet Union, has produced a rich group of bones dating back almost 2 million years — and the discovery is shaking the family tree of human evolution.

The fossil hunters found the cache of bones more than a decade ago in a place called Dmanisi, but kept most of the find under wraps.

Now, they've lifted the veil, revealing the fossilized remains of five creatures who lived 1.8 million years ago.

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Research News
1:16 pm
Mon October 14, 2013

Trapped In A Fossil: Remnants Of A 46-Million-Year-Old Meal

A very old squished mosquito found in fossilized rock from Montana. Analysis of the insect's gut revealed telltale chemicals found in blood.
PNAS

Originally published on Mon October 14, 2013 5:19 pm

Scientists who study why species vanish are increasingly looking for ancient DNA. They find it easily enough in the movies; remember the mosquito blood in Jurassic Park that contained dinosaur DNA from the bug's last bite? But in real life, scientists haven't turned up multi-million-year-old DNA in any useable form.

Fortunately, a team at the Smithsonian Institution has now found something unique in a 46-million-year-old, fossilized mosquito — not DNA, but the chemical remains of the insect's last bloody meal.

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Environment
4:00 pm
Tue October 8, 2013

Flood Forensics: Why Colorado's Floods Were So Destructive

Flooding brought down a house in Jamestown, Colo., on Sept. 18.
Matthew Staver Landov

Originally published on Wed October 9, 2013 9:25 am

Parts of Colorado are still drying out after floods hit the state last month. Eight people died, and damage from the worst flooding in decades is in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Scientists are now venturing into the hardest-hit areas to do a sort of "flood forensics" to understand why the floods were so bad.

Geologist Jonathan Godt takes Peak Highway in northern Colorado up into the Rockies. The road there winds past ravines and streams where water is still rushing.

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Shots - Health News
5:04 pm
Fri September 13, 2013

After Disasters, DNA Science Is Helpful, But Often Too Pricey

A Thai medic checks bodies for forensic identity in Phang Nga province in southern of Thailand on Jan. 11, 2005. Thousands of people were killed in Thailand after a massive tsunami struck on Dec. 26, 2004.
Pornchai Kittiwongsakul AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Fri September 13, 2013 6:32 pm

Human DNA is the ultimate fingerprint. A single hair can contain enough information to determine someone's identity — a feature that's been invaluable for identifying the unnamed casualties of natural disasters and war. But forensic scientists who use DNA say the technology isn't always available where it's most needed, like in poor countries, or in war zones like Syria.

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Environment
2:06 am
Fri September 13, 2013

'Rivers On Rolaids': How Acid Rain Is Changing Waterways

Gwynns Falls runs beneath Interstate 95 at Carroll Park in Baltimore. The chemistry of this river, like many across the country, is changing.
Courtesy of Sujay Kaushal

Originally published on Fri September 13, 2013 9:47 am

Something peculiar is happening to rivers and streams in large parts of the United States — the water's chemistry is changing. Scientists have found dozens of waterways that are becoming more alkaline. Alkaline is the opposite of acidic — think baking soda or Rolaids.

Research published in the current issue of Environmental Science and Technology shows this trend to be surprisingly widespread, with possibly harmful consequences.

What's especially odd about the finding is its cause: It seems that acid rain actually has been causing waterways to grow more alkaline.

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Environment
4:20 pm
Fri September 6, 2013

Immense Underwater Volcano Is The Biggest On Earth

Originally published on Tue September 10, 2013 4:20 pm

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

In the northwestern Pacific Ocean, scientists have found what they believe to be the biggest volcano on Earth. In fact, to find a volcano of a similar size, you'd have to go to Mars. As NPR's Christopher Joyce reports, the volcano is, fortunately, dormant, but in its prime, it changed the face of the Earth.

CHRISTOPHER JOYCE, BYLINE: William Sager says he brings conversations to a halt when he tells people he's a geophysicist. But now, he says he's got a story that gets people's attention.

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Science
2:03 am
Fri August 30, 2013

Wise Old Whooping Cranes Keep Captive-Bred Fledglings On Track

This young whooping crane is on its first fall migration, guided by an Operation Migration ultralight aircraft. Each whooper in this population wears an identification band, and many carry tracking devices that record their movements in detail.
Joe Duff Operation Migration USA Inc.

Originally published on Fri August 30, 2013 1:40 pm

Being a wildlife biologist in the 21st century increasingly means rescuing rare animals from extinction. Among the success stories is the whooping crane. Seventy years ago there were only about 16 birds left on the planet. Now there are about 600.

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Science
2:22 am
Fri August 23, 2013

Can A Big Earthquake Trigger Another One?

Kesennuma, in the Tohoku region of Japan, was devastated in a March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami. A researcher studying recent mega-quakes says this one, centered some 300 miles from Tokyo, could actually mean an increased risk of a quake hitting Japan's capital, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world.
Suzanne Mooney Barcroft Media/Landov

Originally published on Fri August 23, 2013 2:58 pm

There's a joke among scientists: Prediction is difficult, especially about the future. For Ross Stein, it wasn't a joke after the Indian Ocean quake and tsunami in 2004. It killed some 275,000 people. "I just felt almost a sense of shame," Stein says, "that this tragedy could have been so immense in a world where we have so much intense research effort."

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Animals
2:01 am
Thu August 22, 2013

Where The Whale Sharks Go

A whale shark dives near the surface in waters off the coast of Mexico.
Marj Awai Georgia Aquarium

Originally published on Thu August 22, 2013 2:17 pm

Of all the creatures in the sea, one of the most majestic and mysterious is the whale shark. It's the biggest shark there is, 30 feet or more in length and weighing in at around 10 tons.

Among the mysteries is where this mighty fish migrates and where it gives birth. Now scientists have completed the biggest study ever of whale sharks, and they think they have some answers to those questions.

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The Salt
2:05 am
Fri August 9, 2013

Old Hawaiian Menus Tell Story Of Local Fish And Their Demise

Colorful covers of menus from the Royal Hawaiian Hotel (left) and the Monarch Room Royal Hawaiian Hotel.
New York Public Library

Originally published on Tue August 13, 2013 2:53 pm

In the early to mid-1900s, the islands of Hawaii were a far-away, exotic destination. People who managed to get there often kept mementos of that journey including kitschy menus from Hawaiian fine dining restaurants and hotels like like Trader Vic's and Prince Kuhio's.

Now these old menus are serving a purpose beyond colorful relics from the past. Kyle Van Houtan, an ecologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, says he's found a scientific purpose for the menus.

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Environment
4:12 pm
Tue August 6, 2013

Earth Scientists Pin Climate Change Squarely On 'Humanity'

Pedersen Glacier, 1917
Louis H. Pedersen climate.gov/National Snow and Ice Data Center

Originally published on Tue August 6, 2013 7:12 pm

The weather is one of those topics that is fairly easy for people to agree on. Climate, however, is something else.

Most of the scientists who study the Earth say our climate is changing and humans are part of what's making that happen. But to a lot of nonscientists it's still murky. This week, two of the nation's most venerable scientific institutions tried to explain it better.

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Animals
2:03 am
Thu August 1, 2013

Jack Longino, 'The Astonishing Ant Man,' Finds 33 New Species

A side view of the new ant species Eurhopalothrix zipacna. Mounting glue and paper appear beneath the ant, one of 33 new species discovered in Central America by Jack Longino, a biologist at the University of Utah.
John T. Longino University of Utah

Originally published on Fri August 2, 2013 5:01 pm

While many of us spend our working days staring into an electronic box or dozing at meetings, there are some who prefer to crawl through tropical rain forests. People like "the astonishing ant man."

That's what his students call Jack Longino. Longino started out collecting stamps in his childhood, but that got boring fast. Man-made things just didn't thrill, so Longino decided to "get small."

As in: "If you're shopping for a home entertainment system," he says, "you can't do better than a good dissecting microscope."

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Environment
3:56 pm
Mon July 29, 2013

Once Resilient, Trees In The West Now More Vulnerable To Fires

The remains of a tree are seen in front of a boulder in the Dome Wilderness area of New Mexico in August 2012. The Las Conchas Fire torched the land in 2011, burning through more than 150,000 acres of forest.
David Gilkey NPR

Originally published on Thu August 22, 2013 1:24 pm

On any given day, there's a wildfire burning somewhere in the U.S. — and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Many western forests have evolved with fire, and actually benefit from the occasional wildfire.

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The Two-Way
4:08 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 5:06 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
5:30 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 1:50 pm

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
4:28 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 10:13 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
2:16 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 9:44 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
4:05 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 4:55 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
2:01 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 3:52 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
2:01 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 12:46 pm

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Science
5:19 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 5:59 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
4:16 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 7:34 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
2:17 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 6:15 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
5:40 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 6:48 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
3:43 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 11:02 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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