I am writing a YA adventure novel that takes place in a domed city.

For my model of the dome, I am using the Mir mine project design: http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2010-11/17/russia-domed-city-siberia

My story is taking place in the US and the city will have been built on the site of a rather large sinkhole somewhere in the Midwest.

The important elements to consider are:

  • Everything is run by solar powered electricity (gathered from orbital satellites) and designed for the least amount of industrial activity.
  • There is a larger economy that allows for trade with other domed entities.
  • Enclosed world which is well ventilated and - at times- opened to the outer environment for short periods
  • The dome has been in existence for over twenty years.

Mostly, I want to imagine what daily existence is like around the city. What are the sounds and smells of this environment? I imagine that even a ventilated city will have odors from the use of electricity to run everything from commuter shuttles (trains) to large theme park rides - a primary source of entertainment in this particular dome. Also, the sheer number of people milling about must have an impact on the environment no matter how clean they keep themselves. Sports are also huge. What kinds of decay are likely to have taken place that add to the sensory input? If you have any suggestions as to how I could better define my parameters, please offer them.

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    $\begingroup$ Why is the city Domed? That might inform the answers. $\endgroup$
    – Tim B
    Commented Jan 3, 2015 at 23:59
  • $\begingroup$ just guessing, but having a bunch of solar satellites beaming power down at you would probably give your residents an intense sunburn without the dome. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 4, 2015 at 0:01
  • $\begingroup$ Tim B. - The city is domed because at this point in the future, about 150 years from now, a much warmed globe has made living with undpredictable and extreme weather difficult. There's actually more to it than than that and the truth uncovered is part of the story. However, on the face of it, the dome opens from time to time when the weather outside is agreeable enough. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 4, 2015 at 18:27
  • $\begingroup$ Henry Taylor, the collection of sun energy does not happen directly within the dome but in a collection area in the barrens beyond it. The collection process is not a threat to the inhabitants of the dome. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 4, 2015 at 18:28
  • $\begingroup$ Barry, I reorganized the question a bit to help make it more readable. If you have concerns that the content or point of the question was lost or changed please let me know. Welcome to the site. $\endgroup$
    – James
    Commented Jan 5, 2015 at 16:43

3 Answers 3


The presence of the dome would not have a huge impact on the smell of the city in of itself. There would be some incidental effects though, for example there would be no fires (whether for cooking, or entertainment), no combustion engines, etc. This will in of itself change the smell of some areas.

If the air is being recycled it could well develop a metallic or other taste that locals do not notice but visitors do. Beyond that the smell is going to be influenced more by how tightly packed in together everyone is than anything else. If the city is spread out then the smell will be like any other city. The more you pack the inhabitants together though the more intense the smells will become.

The closest analogy I can think of at the moment would be nuclear submarines.



What nobody had warned him about was the smell. As a rough comparison, imagine your teenage son has just come home from three days at the Glastonbury festival where he hasn’t washed once. Multiply that by 120 (the number of men in a submarine crew) and think months instead of days, and you begin to get the idea.

One submariner describes his wife waiting for him at the front door when he comes home from leave with a bottle of Febreze in her hand. She insists on spraying him before she’ll let him in the house and his clothes go straight into the washing machine - even the ones he hasn’t worn.

The main thing though is that whatever the smell, people who live there acclimatise and don't notice it any more. Visitors would also acclimatize over time.

  • $\begingroup$ Tim, this is pretty close to the most complete answer so far. While I appreciate Henry Taylor's comment above about not noticing smells, I still think that there would be variety within the environment and distinct odors like those mentioned by Abulafia below. The city is designed to be all electric with any pollutants being fed into ventilation out of the city. It's city-size, not compact like a submarine. Mostly, I like your points about the lack of fires. I hadn't considered that! I am not sure how long to wait before checking an answer completed. A week? Thanks much! $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 6, 2015 at 19:33

Twenty years into its existence, the city would probably have a neutral scent from the point of view of its residents. People who live in the constant presence of foul odors rarely smell anything after a year or so.

If your POV character is not from the city then they might experience any number of unpleasant odors, most notably human sweat and urine. Most of the negative smells would center around the human habitats. The farming level and the big tree at the core would probably smell a lot better.

  • $\begingroup$ Some people ventilate their rooms rarely, a visitor will notice a stench but the owner does not, because he is habitual to the smell. Same point. $\endgroup$
    – jawo
    Commented Jan 5, 2015 at 10:14

Like a diluted smell of metro stations, Perhaps in places dominated by the smell of powdered rock and concrete dust.

A metro station is underground and therefore never sees rain. The metro trains are electric, but this does not make them smell-free. Lubricants and heating of the brakes on the trains, as well as humans, contribute to the many metro station smells.

If lower sections or horisontal sections of the sinkhole in the story is being excavated, there may also be the distinct metallic burnt smell you get when hammering on rock. Another related smell is that of freshly laid gravel.


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