Telling the story of a city's emissions

Bristol as a whole adds 5,814 tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere every day. This is a view of the sphere from ground level. Seeing a volume from one's own viewing height can increase the awareness of size.

Using creative visuals to deliver a carbon message

This series of images shows Bristol's daily carbon emissions as a volume of gas. By using College Green, a space familiar with many people in the city, we are demonstrating the power of visual comparison. The work formed part of a residency of Adam Nieman, Carbon Visual’s Creative Director, at the Create Centre, Bristol, in 2012. The exhibition coincided with Bristol's Big Green Week, an annual event that engages the public in green issues and actions.

Split into two parts, the aim of these images is to demonstrate Bristol's carbon dioxide emissions, and the 'share' of the air for the city of Bristol and its inhabitants.

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Bristol as a whole adds 5,814 tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere every day. The emissions would fill a sphere 181 metres across.

"These images turn abstract numbers into something Bristolians like me can feel. They bridge the gap between the individual and the city. By using the city itself as an instrument of measurement they humanise the process of quantitative analysis and make it accessible to a much wider audience."

Adam Nieman, Creative Director, Carbon Visuals

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In Bristol, on average, each person adds 4.9 tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere each year, which is over 13 kg per day (less than the national average). In terms of volume that is 5 litres of gas every minute. One day’s emissions would fill a cube nearly 2 metres high.

Visualising a personal contribution to the build up of greenhouse gases helps people 'make sense' of what are otherwise meaningless numbers.

In 2009 (the latest year for which data are available) Bristol emitted over 2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide: 5,814 tonnes a day or 67.3 kg a second (on average).

If all the CO2 that Bristol pumps into the atmosphere emerged from College Green, this is what it would look like.


The surface area of Bristol is 110 km2. It feels like the air stretches up forever, but in fact it gets thin very quickly. Half of all the air lies beneath 5.2 km (3.2 miles). If we brought all Bristol’s air together at ground-level density it would fill a cube 9.7 km tall (6 miles).

This is a short film showing Bristol's share of the air in the atmosphere.

If we shared out the air between each of Bristol’s 441,300 inhabitants we would have 2,516 tonnes each, which would fill a cube 128 metres tall (about the size of the grassy area in Queen’s Square).

Data source

Density of carbon dioxide gas at 15 °C and atmospheric pressure: 1.87 kg.m-3 Density of air at standard temperature and pressure: 1.2 kg.m-3

National data (2008 figures): Boden, T.A., G. Marland, and R. J. Andres. 2011. Global, Regional, and National Fossil Fuel CO2 Emissions. Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC), Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Department of Energy, Oak Ridge, Tenn., U.S.A. doi 10.3334/ CDIAC/00001_V2011

Bristol data (2009 figures): Local and Regional CO2 Emissions Estimates for 2005-2009, produced by AEA for DECC.