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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3:07am

Thu November 14, 2013
Science

As Climate Warms American West, Iconic Trout In Jeopardy

Originally published on Thu November 14, 2013 6:53 am

Native Westslope cutthroat trout and bull trout swim in the cool waters of the Flathead River near Glacier National Park, Montana.
Jonny Armstrong USGS

In the mountain streams of the American West, the trout rules. People don't just catch this fish; they honor it. And spend lots of money pursuing it.

But some western trout may be in trouble. Rivers and streams are getting warmer and there's often less water in them. Scientists suspect a changing climate is threatening this iconic fish.

I joined two such scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey as they drove up a mountain road in Montana, in the northern Rockies, a place dense with stands of Douglas fir and aspen trees and braided with mountain streams.

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2:16pm

Mon October 14, 2013
Research News

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

Originally published on Mon October 14, 2013 6:19 pm

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

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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6:22pm

Tue October 8, 2013
Environment

Flood Forensics: Why Colorado's Floods Were So Destructive

Originally published on Wed October 9, 2013 10:25 am

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

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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6:04pm

Fri September 13, 2013
Shots - Health News

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

Originally published on Fri September 13, 2013 7:32 pm

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

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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3:06am

Fri September 13, 2013
Environment

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

Originally published on Fri September 13, 2013 10:47 am

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

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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5:20pm

Fri September 6, 2013
Environment

Immense Underwater Volcano Is The Biggest On Earth

Originally published on Tue September 10, 2013 5:20 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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3:03am

Fri August 30, 2013
Science

Wise Old Whooping Cranes Keep Captive-Bred Fledglings On Track

Originally published on Fri August 30, 2013 2:40 pm

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.

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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3:22am

Fri August 23, 2013
Science

Can A Big Earthquake Trigger Another One?

Originally published on Fri August 23, 2013 3:58 pm

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

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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3:01am

Thu August 22, 2013
Animals

Where The Whale Sharks Go

Originally published on Thu August 22, 2013 3:17 pm

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

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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3:05am

Fri August 9, 2013
The Salt

Old Hawaiian Menus Tell Story Of Local Fish And Their Demise

Originally published on Tue August 13, 2013 3:53 pm

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

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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5:09pm

Tue August 6, 2013
Environment

Earth Scientists Pin Climate Change Squarely On 'Humanity'

Originally published on Tue August 6, 2013 8:12 pm

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

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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3:03am

Thu August 1, 2013
Animals

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

Originally published on Fri August 2, 2013 6:01 pm

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

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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5:20pm

Mon July 29, 2013
Environment

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

Originally published on Thu August 22, 2013 2:24 pm

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

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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5:18pm

Wed July 24, 2013
The Two-Way

Why The Latest Gulf Leak Is No BP Disaster

Originally published on Wed July 24, 2013 6:06 pm

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

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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6:30am

Sun July 21, 2013
Environment

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

Originally published on Sun July 21, 2013 2:50 pm

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

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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5:07pm

Thu July 18, 2013
Environment

Wildfires Will Worsen, And Further Strain The Forest Service

Originally published on Thu July 18, 2013 11:13 pm

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

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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3:16am

Tue July 16, 2013
Animals

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

Originally published on Tue July 16, 2013 10:44 am

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

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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5:17pm

Thu July 11, 2013
Environment

Wastewater Wells, Geothermal Power Triggering Earthquakes

Originally published on Thu July 11, 2013 5:55 pm

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

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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3:01am

Thu July 11, 2013
Environment

Saving One Species At The Expense Of Another

Originally published on Thu July 18, 2013 4:52 pm

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

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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3:01am

Wed July 10, 2013
Environment

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

Originally published on Wed July 10, 2013 1:46 pm

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

6:19pm

Wed June 5, 2013
Science

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

Originally published on Wed June 5, 2013 6:59 pm

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

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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5:10am

Fri May 31, 2013
Animals

Big-Mouthed Toucans Key To Forest Evolution

Originally published on Fri May 31, 2013 8:34 am

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

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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3:35pm

Tue May 14, 2013
Environment

With Rising Seas, America's Birthplace Could Disappear

Originally published on Tue May 14, 2013 7:15 pm

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

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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6:40pm

Wed May 1, 2013
The Salt

Bones Tell Tale Of Desperation Among The Starving At Jamestown

Originally published on Wed May 1, 2013 7:48 pm

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

"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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4:43pm

Tue April 30, 2013
Shots - Health News

How Doctors Would Know If Syrians Were Hit With Nerve Gas

Originally published on Wed May 1, 2013 12:02 pm

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

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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5:43pm

Thu March 28, 2013
Animals

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

Originally published on Thu March 28, 2013 7:19 pm

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

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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4:30pm

Wed March 27, 2013
Energy

Is The Sky The Limit For Wind Power?

Originally published on Wed March 27, 2013 9:55 pm

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

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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5:12am

Fri March 15, 2013
Energy

Could Tapping Undersea Methane Lead To A New Gas Boom?

Originally published on Fri March 15, 2013 10:38 am

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

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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2:23am

Fri March 8, 2013
Environment

Past Century's Global Temperature Change Is Fastest On Record

Originally published on Fri March 8, 2013 10:40 pm

Scientists say they have put together a record of global temperatures dating back to the end of the last ice age, about 11,000 years ago. This historical artwork of the last ice age was made by Swiss geologist and naturalist Oswald Heer.
Oswald Heer Science Source

There's plenty of evidence that the climate has warmed up over the past century, and climate scientists know this has happened throughout the history of the planet. But they want to know more about how this warming is different.

Now a research team says it has some new answers. It has put together a record of global temperatures going back to the end of the last ice age — about 11,000 years ago — when mammoths and saber-tooth cats roamed the planet. The study confirms that what we're seeing now is unprecedented.

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3:44am

Wed March 6, 2013
Animals

Elephant Poaching Pushes Species To Brink Of Extinction

Originally published on Wed March 6, 2013 11:18 am

A new study of Central African forest elephants has found their numbers down by 62 percent between 2002 and 2011. The study comes as governments and conservationists meet in Thailand to amend the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

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