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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3:43am

Wed April 16, 2014
Science

T Rex To Reveal Itself At The Smithsonian

Originally published on Wed April 16, 2014 5:08 am

Pat Leiggi, right, of the Museum of the Rockies, prepares to move a leg bone of the T rex at the Smithsonian's Natural History Museum in Washington, D.C. on April 15.
Maggie Starbard NPR

This week, scientists at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History will start unpacking some rare and precious cargo. It's something the Smithsonian has never had before — a nearly complete skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus rex.

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7:00am

Tue April 1, 2014
Research News

Methane-Producing Microbes Caused 'The Great Dying'

Originally published on Tue April 1, 2014 8:23 am

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene. Good morning. The biggest extinction the Earth has ever seen took place 250 million years ago and it remains something of a mystery. Scientists suspected giant volcanoes or perhaps an asteroid caused it, but NPR's Christopher Joyce has seen new research suggesting the cause might not have been so cataclysmic - maybe something much more subtle.

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5:06am

Thu March 20, 2014
Science

The 500-Pound 'Chicken From Hell' Likely Ate Whatever It Wanted

Originally published on Thu March 20, 2014 4:07 pm

Courtesy of Bob Walters

For the past decade, dinosaur scientists have been puzzling over a set of fossil bones they variously describe as weird and bizarre. Now they've figured out what animal they belonged to: a bird-like creature they're calling "the chicken from hell."

There are two reasons for the name.

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3:00am

Fri January 10, 2014
Science

When Big Carnivores Go Down, Even Vegetarians Take The Hit

Originally published on Fri January 10, 2014 12:45 pm

Ask not for whom the wolf stalks ...
Holly Kuchera iStockphoto

Big, fierce animals — lions and tigers and bears, for example — are relatively scarce in nature. That's normal, because if you have too many, they'll eat themselves out of prey.

But top predators are now so rare that many are in danger of disappearing. That's creating ripple effects throughout the natural world that scientists are still trying to figure out.

What they're exploring is ecology — the interplay of animals and plants in nature. It's not rocket science. It's harder.

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3:22pm

Mon January 6, 2014
The Salt

Looks Like The Paleo Diet Wasn't Always So Hot For Ancient Teeth

Originally published on Mon January 6, 2014 6:16 pm

Say aaaaaah! Dental caries and other signs of oral disease are plain to see in the upper teeth of this hunter-gatherer, between 14,000 and 15,000 years old. The findings challenge the idea that the original paleo diet was inherently healthy, says paleo-anthropologist Louise Humphrey. It all depended, she says, on what wild foods were available.
Courtesy of Isabelle De Groote

One of the hinge points in human history was the invention of agriculture. It led to large communities, monumental architecture and complex societies. It also led to tooth decay.

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3:03am

Wed January 1, 2014
Environment

Federal Flood Insurance Program Drowning In Debt. Who Will Pay?

Originally published on Wed January 1, 2014 11:42 am

Even when a flood obliterates homes, as Superstorm Sandy did in 2012 in the Rockaway neighborhood of Queens, N.Y., the urge to rebuild can be strong.
Spencer Platt Getty Images

Millions of American property owners get flood insurance from the federal government, and a lot of them get a hefty discount. But over the past decade, the government has paid out huge amounts of money after floods, and the flood insurance program is deeply in the red.

Congress tried to fix that in 2012 by passing a law to raise insurance premiums. Now that move has created such uproar among property owners that Congress is trying to make the law it passed disappear.

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5:04am

Sun December 29, 2013
Science

Centuries Before China's 'Great Wall,' There Was Another

Originally published on Sun December 29, 2013 11:12 am

In Jiaonan county, the Qi wall incorporates outcrops of bedrock.
Linda Nicholas The Field Museum

The Great Wall of China, built more than 2,000 years ago, stands as one of the monumental feats of ancient engineering. Stretching thousands of miles, it protected the newly unified country from foreign invaders.

But before the Great Wall, warring Chinese dynasties built many other walls for protection. An American archaeologist recently began surveying one of the biggest.

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3:18am

Thu December 26, 2013
The Salt

More People Have More To Eat, But It's Not All Good News

Originally published on Thu December 26, 2013 9:03 am

The Brazilian agricultural sector exported for a value of $94,590 million in 2011. One of its largest exports is soybeans, like these in Cascavel, Parana.
Werner Rudhart DPA /Landov

Among the things to celebrate this holiday season is the fact that there are fewer hungry people in the world. Just how many? Well, since 1965, researchers in Europe have been tracking the world's food supply and where it's going.

The good news is: The percentage of the world's population getting what the researchers say is a sufficient diet has grown from 30 percent to 61 percent.

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7:52am

Fri December 13, 2013
Environment

Scientists Battle Over Fate Of Yellowstone's Grizzlies

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The North America's grizzly bear is protected under the Endangered Species Act. Its population was virtually wiped out in the lower 48 states. One group of bears, though, may soon lose that protection - the Yellowstone grizzly. Some scientists say that group is thriving. Others disagree. NPR's Christopher Joyce has more on the battle over the bear.

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5:48pm

Thu December 12, 2013
Environment

Long Island Wins Ultimate Faceoff Against Hurricane Sandy

Originally published on Thu December 12, 2013 8:50 pm

Sediment samples from the seafloor near Long Island.
UT Austin Institute for Geophysics

Hurricane Sandy last year did more harm to coastal cities and homes than any hurricane in U.S. history, except Katrina. Most of that damage has been repaired. But there's other damage that people can't see to the underwater coastline, known as the shore face.

Apparently, Long Island's shore face did remarkably well against the storm of the 21st century.

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6:05pm

Mon November 25, 2013
Environment

U.S. May Be Producing 50 Percent More Methane Than EPA Thinks

Originally published on Mon November 25, 2013 7:59 pm

The EPA tries to keep track of all sorts of methane producers — including herds of methane-belching cattle.
Emmett Tullos Flickr

Methane is the source of the gas we burn in stoves. You can also use it to make plastics, antifreeze or fertilizer. It comes out of underground deposits, but it also seeps up from swamps, landfills, even the stomachs of cows.

And while methane is valuable, a lot of it gets up into the atmosphere, where it becomes a very damaging greenhouse gas.

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5:05pm

Mon November 18, 2013
Typhoon Haiyan Devastates The Philippines

How And Where Should We Rebuild After Natural Disasters?

Originally published on Mon November 18, 2013 6:27 pm

The wreckage in Tacloban, Philippines, on Nov. 16 was overwhelming, after Typhoon Haiyan plowed through.
David P. Gilkey NPR

The physical damage from Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines is catastrophic. Hundreds of thousands of people are now homeless.

Soon, though, people will start to rebuild, as they have after similar natural disasters.

How they do it, and where, is increasingly important in places like the Philippines. The island nation lies in a sort of "typhoon alley," and with climate change and rising sea levels, there are more storms in store.

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4:16pm

Mon November 18, 2013
The Salt

Meat Mummies: How Ancient Egyptians Prepared Feasts For Afterlife

Originally published on Wed November 20, 2013 12:25 pm

Anyone up for meat mummies? Above, a mummified beef rib from the tomb of Tjuiu, an Egyptian noblewoman, and her husband, the powerful courtier Yuya, circa 1386-1349 BC.
Image courtesy of PNAS

Meat mummies.

It's a word pairing that is, I dare say, pretty rare. Who among us has heard those two words together? What, indeed, could a "meat mummy" be?

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3:04am

Fri November 15, 2013
Environment

A Rancher And A Conservationist Forge An Unlikely Alliance

Originally published on Fri November 15, 2013 9:08 pm

Trout fishing is big business in Montana, bringing in tens of millions of dollars annually.
Tom Murphy Getty Images/National Geographic

Trout fishing is a magnet that draws people from around the world to places like Ovando, Mont. Just ask the owner of Blackfoot Angler and Supplies, Kathy Schoendoerfer.

"Every state in the nation has been through this little shop in Ovando, Montana, population 50," says Schoendoerfer with a mix of pride and perhaps a little fatigue. "And we've also had everybody from Russia, Latvia. We get a lot of Canadians, France, Finland, Brazil, Scotland, Germany, South Africa. We get a lot of business out here. You know, fly-fishing is huge."

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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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5:13pm

Mon November 4, 2013
Research News

How'd They Do That? The Story Of A Giant Rock And A Road Of Ice

Originally published on Mon November 4, 2013 7:42 pm

The Large Stone Carving is the heaviest stone in the Forbidden City in Beijing. It was believed to have weighed more than 300 tons when it was first transported to the site between 1407 and 1420.
DEA/ W. Buss De Agostini/Getty Images

Great works of ancient engineering, like the Pyramids or Stonehenge, inspire awe in every beholder. But some onlookers also get inspired to figure out exactly how these structures were made.

Howard Stone, an engineer from Princeton University, had such a moment in Beijing's Forbidden City — a city-within-a-city of palaces and temples built in the 15th and 16th centuries. A carved, 300-ton slab that formed a ramp to one structure particularly caught Stone's eye. "How in the world did it get here?" he wondered.

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4:08pm

Wed October 30, 2013
Superstorm Sandy: Before, During And Beyond

In Sandy's Wake, Flood Zones And Insurance Rates Re-Examined

Originally published on Wed October 30, 2013 6:00 pm

An emergency responder helps evacuate two people with a boat after their neighborhood in Little Ferry, N.J., was flooded.
Andrew Burton Getty Images

When Sandy blew into East Coast communities a year ago, it was flooding that did the most damage.

That's in part because the average sea level has risen over the past century — about a foot along the mid-Atlantic coast. That made it easier for the storm to push the ocean onto the land.

And scientists say there will be many more Sandy-style storms — that is, torrential rain and wind that create heavy coastal flooding — and they'll be more frequent than in the past. But preparing people for that means changing the way they live, and that's proving politically difficult.

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5:54pm

Thu October 17, 2013
Humans

Fossil Find Points To A Streamlined Human Lineage

Originally published on Fri October 18, 2013 5:35 pm

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

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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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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4:36pm

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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5:12pm

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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5:27pm

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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