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.

Pages

Humans
2:20 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 9:16 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.

Read more
Science
3:46 am
Wed June 20, 2012

Man-Made Earthquakes Get Geologists' Attention

Originally published on Wed June 20, 2012 9:16 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.

Read more
The Salt
10:23 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.

Read more
Humans
3:07 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 8:33 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.

Read more
Energy
4:12 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 11:43 am

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.

Read more
Science
2:10 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 5:59 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.

Read more
The Fracking Boom: Missing Answers
11:10 am
Mon May 14, 2012

With Gas Boom, Pennsylvania Fears New Toxic Legacy

NPR

Originally published on Wed May 23, 2012 9:55 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.

Read more
Humans
5:23 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 4:27 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.

Read more
Shots - Health Blog
1:38 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 8:45 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.

Read more
Animals
5:04 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 10:38 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.

Read more
Energy
2:14 am
Thu April 12, 2012

Scientists Link Rise In Quakes To Wastewater Wells

Originally published on Fri April 13, 2012 9:22 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.

Read more
Animals
2:39 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.

Read more
Environment
2:35 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 8:25 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.

Read more
Environment
4:25 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 5:20 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.

Read more
Energy
11:01 pm
Sun March 11, 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 10:08 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.

Read more
Rebuilding Japan
5:23 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.

Read more
Science
4:01 pm
Wed February 22, 2012

Climate Scientist Admits To Lying, Leaking Documents

Originally published on Wed February 22, 2012 9:30 pm

Peter Gleick is not just any scientist. He got his doctorate at the University of California, Berkeley and won a MacArthur "genius" award. He is also an outspoken proponent of scientific evidence that humans are responsible for climate change.

And earlier this week, he confessed that he had lied to obtain internal documents from the Heartland Institute, a group that questions to what extent climate change is caused by humans.

Read more
NPR Story
3:00 am
Tue February 21, 2012

Nature Has A Good Beat, But Can You Dance To It?

Rhythm in music is about timing — when notes start and stop. And now scientists say they've found a curious pattern that's common to musical rhythm. It's a pattern also found in nature.

Around the Nation
11:01 pm
Thu February 9, 2012

Nuclear Safety, Costs Loom Over OK'd Reactors

Steam rises from the cooling towers of nuclear reactors at Georgia Power's Plant Vogtle in Waynesboro, Ga. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved Southern Co.'s application to begin full construction of the nation's first new nuclear units since 1978 at Plant Vogtle.
Mary Ann Chastain AP

Originally published on Fri February 10, 2012 10:56 am

The nuclear industry is celebrating the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission's decision to give the go-ahead for a utility company to build two new nuclear reactors in Georgia, the first license to be granted for a new reactor in the U.S. since 1978. But last year's accident at reactors in Fukushima, Japan, still clouds the future of nuclear power, as does the cost of new power plants.

Southern Co. will build the reactors at its Vogtle site in Georgia, where two older reactors already operate.

Read more
Animals
11:31 am
Mon January 30, 2012

Invasive Pythons Put Squeeze On Everglades' Animals

Nonnative pythons, like this one, are invading the Florida Everglades. As a top predator, the snakes have crippled the populations of rabbits, raccoons and other animals.
Joe Raedle Getty Images

Originally published on Mon January 30, 2012 11:02 pm

Scientists are reporting that aliens are wiping out the animals in Florida's Everglades.

The aliens are Burmese pythons from Asia. They've been slithering around south Florida for decades. But scientists now say the constrictors are so bad, they're eating their way through the swamps. And the federal government has decided to take action to prevent their spread.

Read more
Energy
4:33 pm
Thu January 26, 2012

Panel Charts Path To New Home For Nuclear Waste

Without a centralized national repository for nuclear waste, the radioactive material is currently being kept at various sites across the country. Above, large concrete canisters, each holding 14 55-gallon drums of waste, are loaded on a truck in Richland, Wash., in June 2005 where they were later shipped to a facility in New Mexico.
Jeff T. Green Getty Images

A panel of experts today set forth a plan for getting rid of thousands of tons of highly radioactive nuclear waste.

Most of it is spent fuel from nuclear power reactors. It was supposed to go to a repository in Nevada called Yucca Mountain, but the government has abandoned that plan.

Read more
Energy
11:01 pm
Tue January 24, 2012

Is The Booming Natural Gas Industry Overproducing?

Hydraulic fracturing wells have been producing a tremendous amount of natural gas — far more than the current demand. Above, a Cabot Oil & Gas natural gas drill at a fracking site in South Montrose, Pa.
Spencer Platt Getty Images

Originally published on Wed January 25, 2012 11:25 am

The practice of hydraulic fracturing — pumping fluid into underground rock to push up natural gas — has its detractors, especially among environmentalists. But it's becoming clear that whatever its drawbacks, "fracking," as it's called, is producing a lot of gas — maybe too much gas.

Fracking was once a small part of the natural gas industry, a technique to get hard-to-reach deposits in underground shale. Then the technology improved, and the dinner bell rang. Everybody wanted in. Now there's so much gas on the market that the price is at a 10-year low.

Read more
Energy
11:01 pm
Wed January 18, 2012

Cheap Chinese Panels Spark Solar Power Trade War

Contractors with SunEdison install more than 1,000 Chinese-made solar panels on top of a Kohl's Department Store in Hamilton Township, N.J., in 2010. Energy generated by the solar system will cut the store's usage, on average, by 25 to 30 percent.
Robert Nickelsberg Getty Images

Originally published on Thu January 19, 2012 9:36 am

There's a solar trade war going on inside the U.S., sparked by an invasion of inexpensive imports from China.

The U.S. solar industry is divided over these imports: Panel-makers say their business is suffering and want a tariff slapped on the imports. But other parts of the industry say these cheap panels are driving a solar boom in the U.S.

Read more
Environment
1:32 pm
Thu January 12, 2012

To Slow Climate Change, Cut Down On Soot, Ozone

An Indian street dweller prepares food on the streets of Kolkata. A growing number of scientists say that reducing black carbon — mostly soot from burning wood, charcoal and dung — would have an immediate and powerful impact on climate.
Deshakalyan Chowdhury AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Thu January 12, 2012 9:12 pm

Politically, climate change is off this year's campaign agenda. Jobs, the economy and social issues are front and center.

But scientists are working as hard as ever to figure out how much the Earth is warming and what to do about it. Some now say it's time for a new strategy, one that gets faster results.

Talk to Durwood Zaelke, for example. Zaelke is a grizzled veteran of the climate wars: He was in Kyoto in 1997 when the world's nations drafted a treaty promising to curb warming, and he has watched that promise fizzle while the planet's temperature continues to rise.

Read more
Science
11:01 pm
Wed January 4, 2012

How Fracking Wastewater Is Tied To Quakes

With the skyline of Youngstown, Ohio, in the distance, a brine injection well owned by Northstar Disposal Services LLC is seen in Youngstown on Jan. 4. The company has halted operations at the well, which disposes of brine used in gas and oil drilling, after a series of small earthquakes hit the Youngstown area.
Amy Sancetta AP

Originally published on Thu January 5, 2012 2:00 pm

Small earthquakes in Ohio and Arkansas associated with hydraulic fracturing for natural gas have taken many people by surprise. Gas industry executives say there's no hard evidence that their activities are causing these quakes. But some scientists say it's certainly possible; in fact, people have been causing quakes for years.

In the 1960s, geologists realized that gold mines in South Africa had created small earthquakes. Caverns dug into the earth thousands of feet below the surface collapsed. The "pancake" effect caused quakes — in one case a magnitude-5.2 temblor.

Read more

Pages