Ross Mackay displays the plaque he recently received from the National Geodetic Survey for 30 years of service.
A federal representative on Kentucky’s award-winning GIS team was recently recognized by the National Geodetic Survey (NGS). Ross Mackay, the NGS liaison with Kentucky’s Division of Geographic Information, was honored with an award for his 30 years of outstanding service with the federal agency.
Mackay is currently providing leadership for Kentucky’s Height Modernization project, which is building the infrastructure to improve the accuracy of the elevations measured by GPS techniques. Perhaps more importantly, the Height Modernization infrastructure includes a network of Continuously Operating GPS Reference Stations (CORS). Kentucky’s CORS make it possible for anyone with a survey-grade GPS receiver to quickly and precisely determine an NSRS location anywhere in the commonwealth.
Mackay, a native of Western New York, started working for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s NGS in 1978 as a survey technician while living in Maryland. On his first assignment, he was sent to Twentynine Palms, Calif., a desert town, to work as part of a precise leveling crew. There was concern that vertical motion detected in Southern California was an indication of tectonic activity.
Coming up through the ranks, Mackay was assigned to an astronomic observations field crew as a geodetic technician. Still headquartered in Maryland, he traveled all over the US, from Bermuda to Alaska, staying primarily in the lower 48 states.
His next position was with NGS’s Geodetic Research Laboratory division, during which he completed a degree in night school, which qualified him as a geodesist. In this position, Mackay performed data processing for a research project that used radio astronomy techniques for measuring very long baselines extending across continents. His working group provided direct evidence of continental drift, daily variations of the earth's spin rate and polar wobble.
Following that period in his career, Mackay became a member of a team doing research on geodetic applications of a new global positioning satellite system called GPS. Initially, the military application for GPS was only capable of providing rough positional information. Using techniques from his previous research, Mackay was able to get precision geodetic measurements by using the GPS satellite signals to calculate accurate differences in location. This research into GPS capabilities and the development of additional processing techniques by NGS helped launch a new generation of tools for precise surveying measurements.
Later, Mackay began to experiment with another new technology. Due to connections with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, his working group had access to the fledgling Internet and an experimental tool that allowed collaboration across networks, later to become known as the Web. Mackay created the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s first Web page, and eventually became the first NGS webmaster. Through Web publication of NGS’s products and services, he became familiar with all of the agency’s activities and developed working relationships with personnel in each of its divisions.
In the early 2000s, Mackay applied for the geodetic advisor position he currently holds and, after visiting the commonwealth, he and his family decided to move to the bluegrass state. While in the commonwealth, he has become a valued member of Kentucky’s GIS team, helping to expand the network of National Spatial Reference System monuments and providing leadership for Kentucky’s Height Modernization project.