Richard Harris

Award-winning journalist Richard Harris reports on science and the environment for NPR's newsmagazines, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.

Harris, who joined NPR in 1986, has traveled to all seven continents for NPR. His reports have originated from Timbuktu, the South Pole, the Galapagos Islands, Beijing during the SARS epidemic, the center of Greenland, the Amazon rain forest, the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro (for a story about tuberculosis), and Japan to cover the nuclear aftermath of the 2011 tsunami.

In 2010, Harris' reporting revealed that the blown-out BP oil well in the Gulf of Mexico was spewing out far more oil than asserted in the official estimates. That revelation led the federal government to make a more realistic assessment of the extent of the spill.

Harris has covered climate change for decades. He reported from the United Nations climate negotiations, starting with the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, and including Kyoto in 1997 and Copenhagen in 2009. Harris was a major contributor to NPR's award-winning 2007-2008 "Climate Connections" series.

Over the course of his career, Harris has been the recipient of many prestigious awards. Those include the American Geophysical Union's 2013 Presidential Citation for Science and Society. He shared the 2009 National Academy of Sciences Communication Award and was a finalist again in 2011. In 2002, Harris was elected an honorary member of Sigma Xi, the scientific research society. Harris shared a 1995 Peabody Award for investigative reporting on NPR about the tobacco industry. Since 1988, the American Association for the Advancement of Science has honored Harris three times with its science journalism award.

Before joining NPR, Harris was a science writer for the San Francisco Examiner. From 1981 to 1983, Harris was a staff writer at The Tri-Valley Herald in Livermore, California, covering science, technology, and health issues related to the nuclear weapons lab in Livermore. He started his career as a AAAS Mass Media Science Fellow at the now-defunct Washington (DC) Star.

Harris is co-founder of the Washington, D.C., Area Science Writers Association, and is past president of the National Association of Science Writers. He serves on the board of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

A California native, Harris returned to the University of California-Santa Cruz in 2012, to give a commencement address at Crown College, where he had given a valedictory address at his own graduation. He earned a bachelor's degree at the school in biology, with highest honors.

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Science
1:35 am
Mon July 2, 2012

Is The Hunt For The 'God Particle' Finally Over?

This image, from a sensor at the particle accelerator at CERN, is an example of the data signature a Higgs particle might generate.
CERN

Originally published on Mon July 2, 2012 7:17 am

Before we get to the fireworks on the Fourth of July, we might see some pyrotechnics from a giant physics experiment near Geneva, Switzerland.

Scientists there are planning to gather that morning to hear the latest about the decades-long search for a subatomic particle that could help explain why objects in our universe actually weigh anything.

The buzz is that they're closing in on the elusive Higgs particle. That would be a major milestone in the quest to understand the most basic nature of the universe.

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Energy
3:49 am
Sun July 1, 2012

Ahead Of Alaska Drilling, Shell Practices Cleaning Up

Trainees with Royal Dutch Shell learn to deploy oil spill booms in the waters near the port of Valdez in Alaska. The company is training about 200 spill responders.
Richard Harris NPR

Originally published on Mon July 2, 2012 11:02 am

Royal Dutch Shell could drill several exploratory oil wells into the waters off the north shore of Alaska this summer. The potential prize is huge, but so is the risk, should there be an oil spill in this pristine and remote region. And that risk is on everyone's mind since the BP blowout in the Gulf of Mexico two years ago.

Shell is now training hundreds of workers to confront oil in icy waters. But for now, the training is taking place in the calm, ice-free waters far to the south, near the port of Valdez.

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Science
4:22 am
Sat June 23, 2012

Rio+20 Summit Sustains Little More Than Sentiment

U.N. General Assembly President Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, Brazil's Secretary of the Conference Luis Figueiredo Machado and Rio+20 Secretary General Sha Zukang attend the closing ceremony of the Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro on Friday.
Andre Penner AP

Originally published on Sat June 23, 2012 9:15 pm

The Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development was the biggest United Nations conference ever, but it may be one of the biggest duds. It produced no major agreements — just a vaguely worded declaration that has been widely derided.

More than 45,000 people registered for the event in Rio de Janeiro, but diplomats couldn't even agree about the meeting's objective until 2:45 a.m. on Tuesday, just before heads of state and other high-level delegates started arriving in Rio.

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Energy
4:11 pm
Tue June 19, 2012

Shell Faces Pushback As Alaska Drilling Nears

Shell says it hopes to never need to use its new 300-foot-long, $100 million oil recovery ship named Nanuq for anything other than drills and training.
Richard Harris NPR

Originally published on Tue June 19, 2012 4:59 pm

The federal government could soon give the final go-ahead for Royal Dutch Shell to begin drilling for oil in the Arctic Ocean. Shell has spent $4 billion since 2007 to prepare for this work, and is hoping to tap into vast new deposits of oil.

But the plan to drill exploratory wells is controversial — opposed by environmental groups and some indigenous people as well.

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Energy
1:15 am
Tue June 19, 2012

Rio Environment Meeting Focuses On 'Energy For All'

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks during a news conference on June 7 at the United Nations headquarters in New York City. Ban wants to focus on making energy available to the poorest populations of the world.
Andrew Burton Getty Images

Originally published on Tue June 19, 2012 7:48 am

Diplomats and activists from around the world are meeting in Rio de Janeiro this week to talk about how the planet's growing population can live better lives without damaging the environment. The Rio+20 meeting marks the 20th anniversary of the United Nations Earth Summit in Rio, a watershed meeting to address topics as diverse as climate change and biodiversity.

At this follow-up meeting, delegates hope to highlight an issue that was almost absent from the Earth Summit: making energy available to everyone in the world.

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Animals
1:02 am
Tue June 5, 2012

Splish Splat? Why Raindrops Don't Kill Mosquitoes

When a raindrop hits a mosquito, the mosquito and drop join together, and the mosquito rides the drop for about a thousandth of a second before its wings, which act like kites, pull it out of the water.
CDC Public Health Image Library

Originally published on Tue June 5, 2012 6:53 am

Imagine how tough life would be if raindrops weighed 3 tons apiece as they fell out of the sky at 20 mph. That's how raindrops look to a mosquito, yet a raindrop weighing 50 times more than one can hit the insect and the mosquito will survive.

How?

Put yourself in a mosquito's shoes — or rain boots — for a moment and step outside into a downpour of seemingly gigantic raindrops.

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The Salt
10:45 pm
Tue May 29, 2012

Nuclear Tuna Is Hot News, But Not Because It's Going To Make You Sick

A Tokyo sushi restaurant displays blocks of fat meat tuna cut out from a 269kg bluefin tuna.
Yoshikazu Tsuno AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Wed May 30, 2012 3:17 am

What snarky headline writer could resist a story about "hot tuna?" Or how about "tuna meltdown?"

Really, it seems just plain daffy to ignore a new study that says some Pacific bluefin tuna picked up traces of radioactive material from the Fukushima nuclear disaster last year and brought it across the Pacific Ocean.

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Research News
3:10 pm
Thu May 17, 2012

Ancient Deep-Sea Bacteria Are In No Hurry To Eat

Researcher Hans Roy opens a core sample taken from the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. A core sample like this one contained bacteria that settled on the seafloor 86 million years ago.
Bo Barker Jorgensen Science/AAAS

Originally published on Thu May 17, 2012 5:16 pm

Back when the dinosaurs ruled the Earth, some hardy bacteria took up residence at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. Eighty six million years later, they're still there. And a new study says they're living out the most Spartan lifestyle known on this planet.

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Research News
3:58 pm
Thu May 10, 2012

Why Was A Huge 'Rogue Earthquake' Not Destructive?

Layers of earthquake-twisted ground are seen where the 14 freeway crosses the San Andreas Fault near Palmdale, Calif. The San Andreas Fault, like the kind that caused the huge earthquake off the coast of Indonesia, is a strike-slip fault, where the tectonic plates slide past each other.
David McNew Getty Images

Originally published on Thu May 10, 2012 8:50 pm

They're calling it a "rogue earthquake."

On April 11 of this year, one of the 10 biggest earthquakes ever recorded struck off the coast of Indonesia. It was felt from Bangladesh to Australia.

You may not have even heard of this magnitude 8.6 quake. It barely made the news in the U.S. because it did very little damage. Two people died, but there was no massive tsunami.

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Space
4:37 am
Sat May 5, 2012

Look Up: Tonight, 'Supermoon' Is Closer To Earth

The statue of Freedom, atop of the U.S. Capitol Building, is pictured against a "supermoon" on March 19, 2011.
Jewel Samad AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Wed May 23, 2012 8:49 am

Head outside at sunset tonight and look up at the sky. If the full moon seems a tad larger than normal to you, that means one of two things: You are exceptionally perceptive, or you were already expecting to be dazzled, after hearing some of the buzz about this year's "supermoon."

It turns out that all full moons are not created equal. That's because the moon's orbit around the Earth isn't a perfect circle — it's an ellipse. And tonight, we're in luck.

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Environment
3:11 pm
Thu May 3, 2012

Greenland's Ice Melting More Slowly Than Expected

Researchers studying Greenland's ice say it is melting more slowly than previously thought. Here, ice travels down a relatively small outlet glacier into the sea.
Ian Joughin UW, Sarah Das/WHOI and Richard Harris/NPR

Originally published on Wed May 23, 2012 8:50 am

A new study has some reassuring news about how fast Greenland's glaciers are melting away.

Greenland's glaciers hold enough water to raise sea level by 20 feet, and they are melting as the planet warms, so there's a lot at stake.

A few years ago, the Jakobshavn glacier in Greenland really caught people's attention. In short order, this slow-moving stream of ice suddenly doubled its speed. It started dumping a whole lot more ice into the Atlantic. Other glaciers also sped up.

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Environment
3:08 pm
Thu April 26, 2012

Countries Losing Steam On Climate Change Initiatives

Germany plans to take all of its nuclear power plants offline by 2022, which means coal-fired power plants like the Kraftwerk Westfalen, in Hamm, Germany, will be a key component of the country's energy infrastructure.
Lars Baron Getty Images

Originally published on Thu April 26, 2012 4:27 pm

Energy ministers from around the world met in London this week and got a scolding. The International Energy Agency warned the ministers that they are falling way behind in their efforts to wean the world from dirty sources of energy. Nations are nowhere near being on track to avert significant climate change in the coming decades.

It turns out that right now, just about everything is conspiring to make it harder to clean up the world's energy supply.

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Environment
1:31 am
Tue April 24, 2012

Melt Or Grow? Fate Of Himalayan Glaciers Unknown

In this undated picture, Mount Everest, the world's tallest mountain at 29,029 feet, stands behind the Khumbu Glacier, one of the longest glaciers in the world. Nepal has more than 2,300 glacial lakes, and experts say at least 20 are in danger of bursting.
Subel Bhandari AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Tue April 24, 2012 8:14 am

The Himalayas are sometimes called the world's "third pole" because they are covered with thousands of glaciers. Water from those glaciers helps feed some of the world's most important rivers, including the Ganges and the Indus. And as those glaciers melt, they will contribute to rising sea levels.

So a lot is at stake in understanding these glaciers and how they will respond in a warming world. Researchers writing in the latest issue of Science magazine make it clear they are still struggling at that task.

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Environment
2:15 pm
Mon April 2, 2012

Gold Miners Dig Deep — To The Ocean Floor

A robotic arm breaks off a chunk of mineral-rich rock deep underwater. Nautilus Minerals of Australia hopes to develop and expand undersea mining by extracting copper, gold, silver and zinc from the seafloor.
Nautilus Minerals

Filmmaker James Cameron recently reminded us of the wonders of the sea by diving solo in a submarine to the deepest spot in the ocean. Next year, if all goes as planned, a rather different expedition will take place 1,000 miles south of that dive: An Australian company will start mining for copper, gold, silver and zinc on the seafloor off the shore of Papua New Guinea.

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Energy
1:57 am
Tue March 20, 2012

Native Alaskans Divided On State's Oil Drilling Debate

A drilling rig sits on Oooguruk Island off the coast of Alaska's North Slope. The 6-acre island was built by Pioneer Natural Resources so it could drill for oil on the Arctic Ocean.
Steve Quinn AP

Originally published on Tue March 20, 2012 7:06 am

Shell Oil plans to explore for petroleum off Alaska's north coast this summer. The native people of Alaska have a big stake in both oil revenue and environmental protection. That conflict has played out in recent trips by Inupiats to Washington, D.C., to argue their case.

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Remembrances
11:11 am
Tue March 13, 2012

F. Sherwood Rowland, Warned Of Aerosol's Danger

F. Sherwood Rowland, pictured here in 1989, was one of three chemists who shared the 1995 Nobel Prize for chemistry for work on discovering chemicals that deplete the Earth's ozone layer.
University of California AP

The man who warned us that aerosol spray-cans could destroy the earth's protective ozone layer has died.

F. Sherwood Rowland, better known as Sherry Rowland, was a Nobel-prize winning chemist at the University of California, Irvine. And he didn't just keep to the laboratory: He successfully advocated for a ban on ozone-destroying chemicals called CFCs.

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Rebuilding Japan
2:32 pm
Fri March 9, 2012

Crippled Japanese Reactors Face Decades Of Work

Last year's earthquake and tsunami crippled the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power station. Foreign journalists saw cleanup and recovery work in process on Feb. 28.
Yoshikazu Tsuno AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Wed May 23, 2012 8:58 am

The earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on March 11, 2011, lasted for many terrifying minutes. But the multiple nuclear meltdowns that followed created an emergency that lasted for weeks and a legacy that will last for decades.

Here's how the event unfolded. The tsunami knocked out power to the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant. As a result, the cooling systems failed and three reactors melted down. Steam laced with radioactive material poured into the air. Water contaminated with radiation also flowed into the sea.

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Rebuilding Japan
10:01 pm
Thu March 8, 2012

Trauma, Not Radiation, Is Key Concern In Japan

A worker is given a radiation screening as he enters the emergency operation center at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s tsunami-crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant on Feb. 20.
AFP/Getty Images

One year ago this Sunday, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake off Japan triggered a tsunami that killed 20,000 people. It also triggered multiple meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power station, one of the worst nuclear disasters in history.

But health effects from radiation turn out to be minor compared with the other issues the people of Fukushima prefecture now face.

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Energy
2:17 pm
Wed February 15, 2012

Many Jobs May Be Gone With The Wind Energy Credit

From left, enginers Eric Nicosia, Amin Ahmadi and Gavin Boogs work to solve an issue with part of a wind turbine at the Gamesa Corp. factory in Langhorne, Pa., on Feb. 10.
Maggie Starbard NPR

Originally published on Wed May 23, 2012 9:01 am

The wind power industry in this country has grown fast in recent years, but that could come to a screeching halt.

The industry depends on a federal subsidy to keep it competitive with other forms of electricity. It's a tax credit wind farms get for the power they produce. That credit expires at the end of the year, and it's not clear whether Congress will renew it.

The tax credit was initially created to encourage wind energy, since it is a clean and secure source of electricity. But these days the argument is all about jobs.

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Shots - Health Blog
8:06 am
Fri February 10, 2012

How My Voice Went Silent

Everything looked fine on my CT scan, but I didn't sound even close to right.
Courtesy of Richard Harris NPR

Originally published on Fri February 10, 2012 1:10 pm

There's an old joke around newsrooms: News is something that happens to your editor.

If you'll pardon the self-indulgence, I'm going to take this truism one step further: News is what happened to me.

I was laid low the week before New Year's Day by a mysterious headache and a blazing sore throat. A few days later I lost my voice.

My doctors eventually pinpointed the cause by snaking a small camera down my nose. My left vocal fold (or vocal cord if you prefer) had stopped working. It was essentially paralyzed, other than the occasional twitch.

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Science
3:02 pm
Wed February 8, 2012

'Amasia': The Next Supercontinent?

This map shows what the Earth's landmass looked like in the Precambrian Era, about 738 million years ago.
Chris Scotese University of Texas at Arlington

Originally published on Mon February 13, 2012 8:33 am

The Earth's continents are in constant motion. On at least three occasions, they have all collided to form one giant continent. If history is a guide, the current continents will coalesce once again to form another supercontinent. And a study in Nature now shows how that could come about.

You can think of continents as giant puzzle pieces shuffling around the Earth. When they drift apart, mighty oceans form. When they come together, oceans disappear. And it's all because continents sit on moving plates of the Earth's crust.

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The Two-Way
1:35 pm
Wed January 11, 2012

EPA Creates Website To ID Biggest Emitters Of Greenhouse Gases

Originally published on Wed January 11, 2012 1:39 pm

Ever wondered who the big greenhouse-gas emitters are in your neck of the woods? The answer is now just a click away.

The US Environmental Protection Agency today unveiled a new website that identifies most of the nation's biggest emitters of carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases. It lets you, for example:

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World
6:00 am
Sun December 11, 2011

At Last, Nations Agree To Landmark Climate Deal

Tired delegates work into the early hours of Sunday morning on the final day of the climate talks in Durban, South Africa.
Rajesh Jantilal AFP/Getty Images

After a third sleepless night, climate negotiators in Durban South Africa finally found a way to reach a compromise early Sunday morning. The deal doesn't set hoped-for new targets to limit global warming, but delegates ultimately decided to embrace it rather than risk a major collapse of this international process.

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Environment
1:23 pm
Thu December 8, 2011

At Climate Talks, Frustration And Interruptions

The U.S. climate change envoy Todd Stern delivers a speech on Dec. 8 in Durban, South Africa, during the U.N. Climate Change Conference. The climate talks entered their second week entangled in a thick mesh of issues with no guarantee that negotiators and their ministers will be able to sort them out.
Stephane De Sakutin AFP/Getty Images

United Nations climate talks, like many negotiations, are a blend of dead seriousness and theater. Today at the talks in Durban, South Africa, an American college student provided a moment of theater by shouting out a short, unauthorized speech during the main session of the talks. Her interruption encapsulated frustration with the pace of the talks in general, and the United States' role in particular.

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Environment
2:00 am
Wed December 7, 2011

At Climate Talks, Resistance From India, China, U.S.

Fundamental disagreements among the nations attending the U.N. climate conference in Durban, South Africa, may stall a possible deal.

Environment
12:51 pm
Tue November 29, 2011

What Will Become Of The Kyoto Climate Treaty?

Key provisions of the Kyoto Protocol expire in December of 2012, and experts say there's no real global framework in place to replace the treaty that was supposed to be the first step toward ambitious actions on climate change. Above, a coal-fired power plant in eastern China. China is now the leading carbon dioxide emitter in the world.
AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Sat December 3, 2011 12:45 pm

As diplomats from around the world gather in Durban, South Africa, for talks about climate change, a big question looms: What will become of the Kyoto climate treaty, which was negotiated with much fanfare in 1997. The treaty was supposed to be a first step toward much more ambitious actions on climate change, but it is now on the brink of fading into irrelevance. That could have major implications for the future of United Nations climate talks.

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Environment
10:01 pm
Sun November 27, 2011

Ahead Of Climate Talks, U.S. Leadership In Question

The U.S. is second only to China in emitting gases that cause global warming. Above, the smoke stacks at American Electric Power's Mountaineer power plant in West Virginia.
Saul Loeb AFP/Getty Images

A new round of United Nations climate talks is getting under way in Durban, South Africa, Monday. And domestic struggles here in the United States are hampering the global talks.

The United States is second only to China in emitting gases that cause global warming. Despite a presidential pledge to reduce emissions two years ago, we're spewing more carbon dioxide than ever into the atmosphere.

That's putting a crimp on the 20-year-long struggle to develop a meaningful climate treaty.

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Environment
12:49 pm
Fri November 18, 2011

Climate Panel: More Extreme Weather On The Way

A U.N. climate panel says that we can expect more extreme weather conditions as a result of climate change. Above, people run from a high wave on Nov. 8 in Nice, France, where heavy rain and flooding forced hundreds to evacuate.
Vallery Hache AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Fri November 18, 2011 2:55 pm

Brace yourself for more extreme weather. A group of more than 200 scientists convened by the United Nations says in a new report that climate change will bring more heat waves, more intense rainfall and more expensive natural disasters.

These conclusions are from the latest effort of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — a consensus statement from researchers around the world.

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Environment
12:44 pm
Thu November 10, 2011

Air Pollution: Bad For Health, But Good For Planet?

Power plants that burn fossil fuels release carbon dioxide as well as a complex soup of chemicals, including nitrogen and sulfur. These chemicals in the air actually help keep global warming in check by reflecting sunlight back into space. Above, the Bruce Mansfield Power Plant in Shippingport, Pa.
Robert Nickelsberg Getty Images

Originally published on Wed March 26, 2014 10:44 am

Cleaning up the air, while good for our lungs, could make global warming worse. That conclusion is underscored by a new study, which looks at the pollutants that go up smokestacks along with carbon dioxide.

These pollutants are called aerosols and they include soot as well as compounds of nitrogen and sulfur and other stuff into the air. Natalie Mahowald, a climate researcher at Cornell University, says so far, scientists have mostly tried to understand what those aerosols do while they're actually in the air.

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Energy
1:10 pm
Wed November 9, 2011

'Power For The Planet': Company Bets Big On Fusion

A section of the fusion machine being tested at General Fusion's facility outside of Vancouver, British Columbia. General Fusion is hoping to implement a long-shot strategy that could produce fusion energy in the next few years.
Brett Beadle for NPR

Originally published on Wed November 9, 2011 6:17 pm

The world would be a very different place if we could bottle up a bit of the sun here on Earth and tap that abundant and clean energy supply. Governments have spent many billions of dollars to develop that energy source, fusion energy, but it's still a distant dream. Now a few upstart companies are trying to do it on the cheap. And the ideas are credible enough to attract serious private investment.

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