Emily Strowitzki

Intro: Why is water a valuable resource?

Water is by far our most valuable natural resource, and the more the world population grows, the more of it is used. Experts already suggest that the next big war will be all about clean water. But how is it possible that the liquid which covers most of our planet is becoming scarcer with each day?

The answer is pollution.

Intro: How can we create a natural water cleanse?

There are some natural sewage works around, yet they are still short-handed. But how do they work? Constructed wetland clean the sewage water by combining three important factors.

  1. marsh plants
  2. microorganisms
  3. ground filtration

Marsh plants are able to get rid of strong pollutions. There are factories that even use them to clean water contaminated by chemicals. The plants roots create the perfect living space for diverse microorganisms, which are able to get rid of most of the dirt particles. Contributing to this the plants bring oxygen back to the contaminated water. The ground works as a filter, too.

My aim in this project is to show the most important processes behind the natural water cleanse. Which plants are used? What do they filter exactly and most importantly how? I’ll take a closer look at constructed wetlands to get an understanding of the special plants used to clean our sewage water.

Marsh plant’s natural water cleanse

As stated above, I’m showing the different types of marsh plants, which are able to clean up contaminated water. The Focus is on the chemical processes behind the natural water cleanse. Which bacterias are provided by the plants and how exactly do they work with the contaminants of sewage water? I’ll explain the cycle by using illustrations and animations to give a better understanding of nature’s natural cleaning process.

Why did I chose this topic?

Our society is always searching for ways of being eco-friendly. This already works in many areas such as air pollution, but alternatives for sewage water cleaning are hardly explored. There are few constructed wetlands in use at the moment, but most of the time people are entrapped to use the classical artificial chemical cleanse, which may be faster and less costly, but adds to pollution even more. A lot of people are skeptical towards plant’s cleaning, too, and doubt that they are able to be as effective as chemicals. With my project I want to show exactly how the natural water cleanse works, so people gain trust in this method, and will use it for themselves in the future. The project will teach people about invisible processes, that make all the difference.

How do I want to do it? 

My project is mostly about informative storytelling. I want to explain invisible cycles with my informative animations and illustrations, to bring the topic closer to the audience. My first project phase is about research: With the help of the book “Constructed Wetlands: A Chemical Engineering Perspective” by Katima Jadimu I’ll get into the chemical reactions that are involved in the natural water cleanse. Adding to that, I’ll create scribbles and illustrations while reading, to give myself a better understanding. My main challenge here is to find a picture language to create infographics in the most minimalistic and clearest way possible. In my second phase I’ll flesh out my drawings and animate the processes with Adobe After Effects. If time grants it, I will create a small constructed wetland, too, using the plants I explained in the video for our exhibition at the end of July.

Marsh plants: The common spike-rush (Eleocharis palustris)

Of course, the common spike-rush is only one of many marsh plants that contribute to a good water quality, but it belongs to the few plants, which clean the water and provide oxygen, too. The oxygen provided by the common spike-rush and it’s roots create the perfect living condition for microorganisms which feed on the contaminated water and thus clean it.

Sure, the whole process is a lot more complicated than the illustrations provided by me. There are many more factors that are important to create a good natural water cleanse and a lot of them are not visible for the eye. In the next two weeks I want to learn more about the real chemical processes and want to make them understandable for non-biologists.

Creating a picture language

While working through my literature, I realized that the easiest way to visualize the topic is to use a minimalist version of the actual plants and molecules. The first illustrations I created used symbols and signs, that are already familiar to our society. These are my results:

Why do we use marsh plants for natural cleaning anyway? Easy said, the marsh plants do not only contribute to cleaning the water, but are uncomplicated, with many benefits. One of them is protection of the shore soil. Without the marshpalnts the shore of artificially created pants would simply wash away. These plants are also able to live everywhere around the world and are resistent to a lot of different weather conditions.

Before I began with the more chemical part, I wanted to know who is actually responsible for most of the reactions. As I explained earlier, the plants’ roots are home to many microorganisms. These are mostly bacteria and fungi.

Oxygen or O2 is a necessity for microorganisms to grow. Oxygen is provided by the plants roots du to photosynthesis similar to the contribution of oxygen to our air.

Microorganisms “feed” on the oxygen and use it as a power resource. This way they are able to break down other chemicals, which will be explained later on.

Carbon, C is one of the most common side products of biological waste in our sewage waters. Actually, up to 50% of biological waste consists of it.

Luckily, microorganisms use Carbon as energy resource, too, and feed on it just as they feed on oxygen.

Having consumed both, O2 and C, microorganisms are able to go into photosynthesis. The photosynthesis, which is triggered by contact with sun light, helps the organisms to break both chemicals down to Carbon Dioxide, or CO2.

The CO2, is the released to the water and flows up into our air. With this natural process, Carbon is eliminated.

Nitrogen is another chemical, that is found in big amounts in our waste water. Actually Plants use small amounts of nitrogen as nutrition, though to much of it results into mortality of plants and water animals.

How to get rid of it? There are several ways to solve the nitrogen problem. The first one is called Literfall. Dead plant tissue (eg. leaves and roots) fall from the plant and float down to the soil, where they form a litter layer, that takes up the nitrogen.

The second solution is Plant Uptake. As said above, plants need a specific amount of nitrogen for nutrition. Especially marsh plants use more of it then regular plants.



What could an infographic look like, if I only used, for example, strokes? What kind of visual language is comprehensible, yet focusing on the main content? I brainstormed aspects that I associate with each chemical and organism involved in the process. For the beginning I focused on the oxygen production and resorption of plants and microorganisms.

The sketchy infographics are supposed to create a visual language that is based on our perception rather than on the symbols, that we already know. It may be that people from other societies don’t understand our known visual language as much as we do. The infographics I drew below explore how a universal visual language could look like.

(more to come)




1 Comment

  1. I would recommend a thorough exploration phase of how you can visually depict the relevant structures and processes. How can you show a process using only dots? How can you show it using only colour? How could you show it using only lines? This might help you develop a visual language for your infographic(s).

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