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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4:12pm

Thu March 28, 2013
Animals

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

Originally published on Thu March 28, 2013 6:19 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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3:22pm

Wed March 27, 2013
Energy

Is The Sky The Limit For Wind Power?

Originally published on Wed March 27, 2013 8:55 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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4:12am

Fri March 15, 2013
Energy

Could Tapping Undersea Methane Lead To A New Gas Boom?

Originally published on Fri March 15, 2013 9:38 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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1:23am

Fri March 8, 2013
Environment

Past Century's Global Temperature Change Is Fastest On Record

Originally published on Fri March 8, 2013 9:40 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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2:44am

Wed March 6, 2013
Animals

Elephant Poaching Pushes Species To Brink Of Extinction

Originally published on Wed March 6, 2013 10:18 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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3:32pm

Fri March 1, 2013
Energy

Natural Gas Dethrones King Coal As Power Companies Look To Future

Originally published on Fri March 1, 2013 7:01 pm

American Electric Power's natural gas-burning plant in Dresden, Ohio, is one of the energy company's new investments in alternatives to coal-burning plants.
Michael Williamson The Washington Post/Getty Images

The way Americans get their electricity is changing. Coal is in decline. Natural gas is bursting out of the ground in record amounts. And the use of wind and solar energy is growing fast. All this is happening as power companies are trying to choose which kind of energy to bet on for the next several decades.

Until recently, half of these plants burned coal to make electricity. Now, that's down to about one-third. Since 2010, about 150 coal plants either have been retired or it's been announced they will be retired soon.

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5:06pm

Fri February 22, 2013
Science

Boston Grapples With The Threat Of Storms And Rising Water

Originally published on Fri February 22, 2013 6:02 pm

The Boston Tea Party museum sits right on the edge of the harbor. With rising sea levels and the increasing threat of strong storms, buildings like these are at particular risk of flooding.
Christopher Joyce NPR

Since the drubbing that Superstorm Sandy gave the Northeast in November, there's a new sense of urgency in U.S. coastal cities. Even though scientists can't predict the next big hurricane, they're confident that a warmer climate is likely to make Atlantic storms bigger and cause more flooding.

Cities like Boston are in the bull's-eye.

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4:25pm

Tue January 29, 2013
Superstorm Sandy: Before, During And Beyond

Sand After Sandy: Scientists Map Sea Floor For Sediment

Originally published on Mon February 4, 2013 1:29 pm

Highly detailed sonar systems aboard the research vessel Pritchard gave researchers a clear view of the sediment on the seafloor off Long Island.
Courtesy of John Goff University Of Texas

Congress has now agreed to give some $60 billion to states damaged by Hurricane Sandy. A lot will go to Long Island, one of the hardest hit areas. Besides damages to homes and businesses, its system of protective barrier islands and beaches were partially washed away.

Scientists are trying to find out where that sand and sediment went, and whether it can be used to rebuild Long Island's defenses.

In January. On a boat in Long Island Bay.

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4:24pm

Fri January 18, 2013
Science

Powerful But Fragile: The Challenge Of Lithium Batteries

Originally published on Fri January 18, 2013 6:58 pm

A United Airlines 787 Dreamliner arrives at O'Hare international Airport in Chicago in November. Aviation authorities in the U.S. and abroad have grounded the planes because of problems with batteries on board.
Nam Y. Huh AP

Boeing announced late Friday that it is postponing deliveries of its new 787 Dreamliner because of problems with its big batteries. Aviation authorities in the U.S. and abroad grounded the new jetliners after those batteries failed in two planes operated by Japanese airlines, including one battery that burned while the plane was on the ground.

These lithium-ion batteries are new to jetliners. They're powerful and lightweight, and, unfortunately, they're also fragile.

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2:34am

Fri January 18, 2013
Superstorm Sandy: Before, During And Beyond

Experts Urge Caution As $50 Billion In Sandy Aid Passes House

Originally published on Fri January 18, 2013 8:11 am

Much of the money from the Hurricane Sandy relief bill the House of Representatives passed will fund beach and infrastructure restoration projects in areas such as Mantoloking, N.J., seen on Oct. 31.
Doug Mills AP

The House of Representatives passed a bill this week to spend $50 billion to help states struck by Hurricane Sandy. The action comes more than two months after the storm, and the measure now goes to the Senate.

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2:22am

Thu December 13, 2012
Superstorm Sandy: Before, During And Beyond

New York Planners Prep For A 'New Normal' Of Powerful Storms

Originally published on Thu December 13, 2012 8:03 am

A woman with the Army Corps of Engineers documents a destroyed home last month in a residential area of New Dorp Beach on Staten Island in New York City.
Robert Nickelsberg Getty Images

It will take tens of billions of dollars to repair the damage wrought by Superstorm Sandy. But scientists who study climate change say repair is not enough. As the climate warms, ice sheets and glaciers will melt, raising the sea level. That means coastal storms will more likely cause flooding.

So New Yorkers, local politicians and scientists face a tough decision: How to spend limited funds to defend themselves from what climate experts call "the new normal."

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3:47pm

Wed December 5, 2012
Environment

In Arid West, Cheatgrass Turns Fires Into Infernos

Originally published on Wed December 5, 2012 5:36 pm

The Constantina Fire burning in Long Valley, Calif., in 2010, very likely started in cheatgrass.
Courtesy of Nolan Preece

Cheatgrass is about as Western as cowboy boots and sagebrush. It grows in yellowish clumps, about knee high to a horse, and likes arid land.

One thing cheatgrass does is burn — in fact, more easily than anyone realized. That's the conclusion from a new study that says cheatgrass is making Western wildfires worse.

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2:18am

Fri November 23, 2012
Environment

An Arbor Embolism? Why Trees Die In Drought

Originally published on Fri November 23, 2012 12:53 pm

A forest near Trieste, Italy, is largely dead owing to drought stress during the summer of 2012.
Andrea Nardini Nature

Scientists who study forests say they've discovered something disturbing about the way prolonged drought affects trees.

It has to do with the way trees drink. They don't do it the way we do — they suck water up from the ground all the way to their leaves, through a bundle of channels in a part of the trunk called the xylem. The bundles are like blood vessels.

When drought dries out the soil, a tree has to suck harder. And that can actually be dangerous, because sucking harder increases the risk of drawing air bubbles into the tree's plumbing.

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2:18am

Wed November 14, 2012
Environment

A 'Green' Gold Rush? Calif. Firm Turns Trash To Gas

Originally published on Wed November 14, 2012 7:17 pm

Energy Of The Future? California company Sierra Energy is testing out a reactor that turns garbage — like these wood chips, metal fragments and plastics — into synthetic gas that can then be turned into a low-carbon diesel fuel.
Christopher Joyce NPR

Second of a two-part series. Read Part 1

California starts the ball rolling Wednesday on a controversial scheme to keep the planet from overheating. Businesses will have to get a permit if they emit greenhouse gases.

Some permits will be auctioned today; the rest are free. The big idea here is the state is putting a ceiling on emissions.

It's a gamble. And for this top-down climate plan to work, it has to usher in a greener, more efficient economy.

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4:24pm

Tue November 13, 2012
Environment

Calif. To Begin Rationing Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Originally published on Tue November 13, 2012 5:18 pm

California begins a new plan to ration greenhouse gas emissions from large companies on Wednesday. Big companies must limit the greenhouse gases they emit and get permits for those emissions. Above, the Department of Water and Power San Fernando Valley Generating Station, in Sun Valley, Calif., in 2008.
David McNew Getty Images

California begins a controversial experiment to curb climate change on Wednesday: The state will start rationing the amount of greenhouse gases companies can emit.

It's the most ambitious effort to control climate change in the country. Some say the plan will cost dearly; supporters say it's the route to a cleaner economy.

Here's how the climate deal works. Big companies must limit the greenhouse gases they emit — from smokestacks to tailpipes — and they have to get permits for those emissions. The clock starts Jan. 1.

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