Ilham Ali

MIT Department: Media Arts and Sciences

Undergraduate Institution: The University of Alabama

Faculty Mentor: Danielle Wood

Research Supervisor: Keith Stober

Websites: Personal Website, LinkedIn

2018 Research Poster


I am a rising senior at the University of Alabama majoring in Environmental Engineering with minors in Mechanical Engineering, Public Policy, and Computer-Based Honors. I am a first-generation Sudanese-American and hope to pursue my graduate degree at the intersection of space technology, water and food security, and global development. In my free time, I enjoy playing soccer, writing music, and hanging out with friends and family.

2018 Research Abstract

Application of Earth Observation Satellite Technology to Track & Model Invasive Water Hyacinth Growth in West Africa   

Ilham Ali1,2, Javier Stober2 and Danielle Wood

1Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering, University of Alabama 

2Space Enabled Research Group, Media Lab, Massachusetts Institute of Technology


Satellite earth observation technology supports global efforts to reach the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. This project aims specifically to support Goal #15 (Life on Land) through the design and implementation of a space-enabled monitoring system to track and model invasive water hyacinth growth in West Africa. We worked in collaboration with Green Keeper Africa – a Beninese company which processes the water hyacinth plant into a fiber that absorbs oil-based pollution. To identify general aquatic vegetation, we utilized multispectral imaging satellite data and applied three different techniques for analyzing visible and infrared wavelength bands: normalized difference vegetation index, false color imaging, and maximum likelihood classification. By setting threshold values, we were able to discern aquatic vegetation and generate extent maps showing historical and current trends. Results indicated that high-resolution satellite data is capable of mapping blockages in narrow tributaries, where water hyacinth growth most severely hinders human activities. The availability of these vegetation maps helps inform community members of invasive plant blooms and aids in facilitating removal efforts. In addition, the inputs from these analyses can contribute to future work in probabilistic modeling of water hyacinth growth. Insights are widely applicable in many similar regions of the world, as water hyacinth remains invasive in nearly 80 countries.