Hamed Alemohammad has long been interested in adapting new technologies to organize and analyze massive amounts of geospatial data, particularly those collected through satellites. He’s applied data science and machine learning techniques to improve his study of precipitation, soil moisture, land cover, and more.
These interests, at the intersection of geography and Geographic Information Science, led Alemohammad to Clark. He’ll join the University in January as the inaugural director of the new Center for Geospatial Analytics. He will also hold an appointment as an associate professor in the Graduate School of Geography.
The Center for Geospatial Analytics will complement and support Clark’s industry-leading research programs in Geographic Information Science. These include Clark Labs, led by Professor Ron Eastman, which develops the IDRISI/TerrSet geographic information and image processing system; Professor Lyndon Estes’ Agricultural Impacts Research Group and Mapping Africa Project; Professor Karen Frey’s Polar Science Research Laboratory; and Professor Chris Williams’ Biogeosciences Research Group. In addition, there are the extensive research programs of professors Gil Pontius (land change modeling), John Rogan (large-scale forest monitoring), Rinku Roy Chowdhury (land-change science), and Florencia Sangermano (conservation GIS). Close links also exist with professors Ed Carr (climate adaptation) and Yelena Ogneva-Himmelberger (spatial analysis/health GIS) in the International Development Community and Environment Department.
“The Clark administration’s vision for the new center to become a place of excellence for the new wave of geospatial analytics really excites me,” Alemohammad says. “I’m delighted to bring my experience as a technology executive in the industry to Clark and lead this center.”
Alemohammad will carry forward with three pillars to guide his leadership of the new center:
“My vision for the new center is to bring these three pillars together to enable a new wave of geospatial analytics on top of the existing legacy of software and technology at Clark Labs and the research of the Graduate School of Geography,” Alemohammad says.
“I believe these three — particularly technology and data analytics — are revolutionizing how we do geography,” he continues. “We can’t solve the complex environmental problems we face today with the technology of 20 or 30 years ago.”
Alemohammad wants to use advanced data analytics and a new technology stack to support the school’s research in areas of earth system science, GIScience and remote sensing, human geography, urban geography, and climate change among others.
The center will also play an entrepreneurial role, Alemohammad says, strengthening connections with industry and stakeholders outside Clark. In the last decade or so, many small and large commercial companies have entered the geospatial sector providing data, tools, services, and solutions. Collaborating with these organizations is of mutual interest as researchers can benefit from the industry’s data and technology and the industry can benefit from the research being conducted at Clark. Alemohammad says the Center for Geospatial Analytics can play a vital role in empowering students with new skills, so they feel confident as they enter the job market.
“I want to create a place for students to get exposure to new technology and learn new software skills while at Clark,” he says. “If the students are empowered with better technology, they can solve more complex problems efficiently and at scale.”
Alemohammad’s desire to analyze the world around him started in his youth. He took note of local environmental challenges and developed an interest in space. As he got older, he became fascinated with using technology to monitor pressing issues and identify solutions.
“I’m from Iran so I’ve seen many environmental problems first-hand, from drought and drying lakes to depleting groundwater and farmers dealing with water shortage during warm seasons,” he says. “I became interested in using data and software to find better solutions for the ecosystem.”
Alemohammad moved to the United States in 2009 and earned a doctorate at MIT in 2014. He holds master’s and bachelor’s degrees from Sharif University of Technology in Iran. Most recently, he was the executive director and chief data scientist of Radiant Earth Foundation. He also served on the technical advisory boards of Enabling Crop Analytics At Scale (ECAAS), an initiative of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Lacuna Fund.
At Radiant, Alemohammad and his team built Radiant MLHub, the first open-access repository for geospatial machine learning training data and models. They also created high-quality and geographically diverse training data for global-scale land cover mapping, which emphasized the role humans play in annotating images. “Humans are prone to error and uncertainty, something critically important to note in generating and publishing data sets,” Alemohammad explains.
“High-quality reference data are essential for building geospatial models, and even more important when using machine learning techniques,” he says. “We need to better incorporate human errors in these data into our models, and this will be one of the areas I will continue my research at Clark”
“We are tremendously excited to have Dr. Hamed Alemohammad coming to join Clark and the GSG,” says Professor James McCarthy, director of the Graduate School of Geography. “The cutting-edge research at the interface of geographic information science, remote sensing, and environmental science he plans for the center will substantially expand Clark’s capacity to contribute to the resolution of urgent socio-environmental problems in the context of climate change at a critical moment and contribute to Clark’s growing strategic focus in the area of climate change. We were particularly impressed and excited by the range of Dr. Alemohammad’s experience, which includes significant work in private industry and nonprofit foundations in addition to his impressive academic background.”
“This is an exceptional opportunity for Clark,” says Professor Ron Eastman, director of Clark Labs. “Clark has played a pioneering role in the development of Geographic Information Science since the mid-1980s. This has included enormous advances in the modeling and prediction of land cover change for the purpose of climate change mitigation and the development of procedures for mining earth observation data for subtle environmental changes. Dr. Alemohammad augments this analytical focus with deep expertise in emerging data technologies and data analytics.”