Richard Harris

Award-winning journalist Richard Harris has reported on a wide range of topics in science, medicine and the environment since he joined NPR in 1986. In early 2014, his focus shifted from an emphasis on climate change and the environment to biomedical research.

Harris 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 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 an 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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Environment
3:31 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 10:14 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
4:15 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
3:57 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 9:06 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
1:11 pm
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
4:32 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 10:58 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
12:01 am
Fri March 9, 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
4:17 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 11:01 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
10:06 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 3:10 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
5:02 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 10:33 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
3:35 pm
Wed January 11, 2012

EPA Creates Website To ID Biggest Emitters Of Greenhouse Gases

Originally published on Wed January 11, 2012 3:39 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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