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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12:01am

Fri September 2, 2011
Science

An Ice Age Beast Evolved To Beat The Cold

An artist's reconstruction of the Tibetan woolly rhino. Woolly rhinos used their flattened horns to sweep snow off of vegetation, a critical adaptation to survive frigid conditions.
Image by Julie Naylor

The Tibetan Plateau is the world's highest place. It's four times the size of France and home to most of the world's highest mountains.

As you might expect, it's cold there. And it may be that the deep chill of the Tibetan Plateau played a role in the evolution of some of the world's most charismatic animals.

That's the belief of a scientist who discovered the skull of a woolly rhino on the Tibetan Plateau.

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12:01am

Wed August 31, 2011
Shots - Health Blog

Cell Phones Could Help Doctors Stay Ahead Of An Epidemic

Two women check their cell phones as they hawk their wares on a bridge over the Artibonite river, whose waters are believed to be the source of Haiti's 2010 cholera outbreak.
NICHOLAS KAMM AFP/Getty Images

The year 2010 was a very bad one for Haiti. It started with an earthquake that killed over 300,000 people, mostly in the crowded capital of Port-au-Prince. After that, cholera originating in a U.N. camp broke out in a northern province and eventually spread to the city.

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3:23pm

Wed August 24, 2011
Energy

Restarting Libya's Valuable Oil Exports Won't Be Easy

A Libyan rebel stands guard at the entrance to the Zawiya oil refinery, about 30 miles west of Tripoli, on Aug. 19. Libyan rebels taken complete control of the key oil refinery. Before the conflict, Libya supplied 2 percent of the world's oil, but restarting oil field operations won't be a simple task.
Filippo Monteforte AFP/Getty Images

The light at the end of the tunnel for Libyans isn't just an end to the Moammar Gadhafi regime — it's also "light sweet crude."

Oil provides most of Libya's income. But the revolution there has strangled exports for months and starved the country of revenue and also temporarily bumped up world oil prices. So there's a lot of interest inside Libya and internationally in getting the country's oil wells up and running again.

The question is, when?

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4:59am

Tue August 2, 2011
Energy

Worries Over Water As Natural Gas Fracking Expands

Originally published on Thu June 28, 2012 2:24 pm

Workers move a section of well casing into place at a natural gas drilling rig near Burlington, Pa. The industry is expected to drill as many as 10,000 new wells in the next few years.
Ralph Wilson AP

Drive through northern Pennsylvania and you'll see barns, cows, silos and drilling rigs perched on big, concrete pads.

Pennsylvania is at the center of a natural gas boom. New technology is pushing gas out of huge shale deposits underground. That's created jobs and wealth, but it may be damaging drinking water. That's because when you "frack," as hydraulic fracturing is called, you pump millions of gallons of fluids underground. That cracks the shale a mile deep and drives natural gas up to the surface — gas that otherwise could never be tapped.

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2:34pm

Fri July 29, 2011
The Two-Way

Panel: Nation Needs New Nuclear Waste Site, Pronto

As sagas go, it rivals the Star Wars epics: "Yucca Mountain: The Quest for a Nuclear Waste Dump" premiered in 1978, when the U.S. government added the Nevada site to its list of potential "permanent repositories." Since then, it's been a story of political intrigue, desert outposts, giant machines and doctored science.

Chosen in 1987 as the "winner" of the competition, the Yucca Mountain site was already half-built when President Barack Obama canceled the long-controversial project last year.

Now comes the sequel: Yucca Mountain Two.

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4:00am

Fri July 29, 2011
Environment

Fire Made Arctic Spew, Rather Than Absorb, Carbon

The Arctic tundra has been relatively thunderstorm-free for 10,000 years. But conditions are changing in the far north, and in 2007 a lightning strike caused the biggest wildfire ever recorded on the North Slope of Alaska. The tundra is normally a carbon sink, but scientists report in the journal Nature that that single fire released more carbon into the atmosphere than the entire Arctic tundra absorbs every year.

4:26pm

Tue July 19, 2011
The Science Of Japan's Nuclear Crisis

Commission: U.S. Must Make Nuclear Plants Safer

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission says American nuclear plants need to be better prepared for the sudden and continued loss of electric power. Above, the Limerick Generating Station, a nuclear power plant in Pottstown, Penn.
Stan Honda AFP/Getty Images

America's nuclear reactors need new safeguards to ensure that the kind of accident that destroyed reactors in Japan last March doesn't happen here. That's the conclusion from a 90-day study of the accident undertaken by experts at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The Fukushima accident in Japan damaged or destroyed four reactors and spread radiation for miles around the plant and it shook confidence in nuclear power around the world. Shortly afterwards, a task force of engineers at the NRC got their marching orders: figure out how to keep this from happening in the U.S.

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4:12pm

Mon June 6, 2011
Energy

Is The Future Of Nuclear Power In Mini Reactors?

Instead of building costly, huge nuclear power plants like the Exelon Byron station in Byron, Ill., engineers are scaling down — aiming for garage-sized reactors that produce just one-tenth the amount of electricity of a conventional facility.
Jeff Haynes AFP/Getty Images

Almost 60 years ago, engineers in Idaho switched on the world's first nuclear power plant. It was only able to illuminate four light bulbs. The reactor vessel in Idaho stood about eight feet high, and eventually it made enough electricity to power a building.

A nuclear plant today can produce 10,000 times as much electricity. But for the last 20 years, new nuclear plants have been too expensive to build. Now engineers are trying to revive the industry by thinking small again.

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12:01am

Fri May 20, 2011
Research News

Mammals Smelled Their Way To Bigger Brains

CT scans of fossil Hadrocodium skulls allowed scientists to reconstruct its brain. The olfactory bulbs, located at the front of the brain, grew steadily larger as millions of years passed.
Matt Colbert University of Texas at Austin

We humans can brag about our large brain, but in fact most mammals — from aardvarks to zebras — have big brains for their body size. For years, scientists have wondered what evolutionary forces pumped up the mammal brain so much, and now they may have an answer.

Mammals needed a better sense of smell.

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4:55pm

Thu May 19, 2011
Science

Giant Quake Reveals Japan's Other Unstable Faults

Geologists drop an acoustic transponder into the Pacific Ocean to measure movements on the seafloor.
Courtesy of Japan Coast Guard

The March 11 earthquake just off the coast of Japan surprised many experts. Geologists say they didn't expect that big a quake in that spot.

But they do fear that more big quakes may be in the offing in or near Japan. Scientists can't tell when, but they're trying to narrow down where.

The answers lie amidst the huge plates that make up the Earth's crust. Think of them as like floating ice sheets on a lake.

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12:01am

Mon May 16, 2011
Energy

Nuclear Nations Turn To Natural Gas And Renewables

Engineers probing the ruined nuclear reactors at Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi plant are finding yet more damage. Not only did fuel melt in three reactors, they've just discovered a hole in one reactor vessel. And radioactive water continues to leak at the site. That mess in Fukushima has led several governments to reassess nuclear power.

Japan was planning 14 new reactors. Germany, famously anti-nuclear, had approved several new plants. Utilities in the U.S. had plans for new reactors as well.

Now?

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8:13pm

Mon April 25, 2011
World

Challenges Loom Large, 25 Years After Chernobyl

Originally published on Wed May 23, 2012 11:57 am

A technician checks a spot with a Geiger counter in a forest that burned in 1992. The wildfire released radioactive particles into the air that were deposited there during the 1986 nuclear accident at Chernobyl. Experts worry nearby forest, which is becoming overgrown, could again be ripe for a blaze.
Patrick Landmann Getty Images

The accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant 25 years ago not only changed the lives of people in Ukraine; it also put a radioactive stain on the continent. And it showed just how far-reaching the ramifications of a serious nuclear accident could be.

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4:44pm

Wed April 20, 2011
The BP Oil Spill, One Year Later

'Quagmire Of Bureaucracy' Stifles Gulf Spill Research

Originally published on Wed May 23, 2012 11:58 am

Phil Radford, executive director of Greenpeace USA, inspects oil-covered reeds while visiting the disaster site on May 20, 2010 south of Venice, Louisiana. A year after the spill, BP has yet to distribute $450 million dollars to scientists studying the disaster.
John Moore Getty Images

Although images of dead birds and blackened marshes in the Gulf of Mexico are gone, many scientists say it's too early to declare a recovery. They suspect there could be hidden damage to the Gulf's marine life and marshes. And some of these scientists say research on the effects of the spill has been delayed or kept secret.

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2:01pm

Thu April 14, 2011
Animals

Dinosaur Eyes Yield Clues To Hunting Habits

Velociraptors, those clever carnivores that hunted in packs in the Jurassic Park films, may actually have been night hunters.

That's the conclusion of scientists who have studied the bones of dinosaurs, reptiles and early flying creatures that lived tens of millions of years ago. In particular, they examined the eye sockets, which the scientists say reveal a great deal about what kind of vision those extinct animals had.

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1:12pm

Tue April 5, 2011
Science

Japan Accident Renews Focus On Spent Fuel In U.S.

The nuclear accident in Japan has rekindled debate about what to do with used reactor fuel.

The Japanese power plant housed tons of highly radioactive used fuel in pools filled with water. Some of that water either leaked out or boiled away during the accident, putting that fuel at risk of burning and releasing radioactive material. With similar fuel pools at more than 60 reactor sites in the U.S., there's renewed interest in their safety.

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