The spectral responsivity of HgCdTe detectors operating in the thermal infrared region was observed to drift slowly with time. The characteristics of the drift were investigated and were shown to have a different origin from the drifts previously reported by one of the authors. Those drifts were caused by a thin film of water ice depositing on the active area of the cold detector. The source of the new drift is far more serious because it is fundamental, making the acquisition of accurate radiometric measurements with these detectors very difficult. It is demonstrated that the source of the new drift is the nonlinearity in the response of the HgCdTe detectors, coupled with the fluctuations of the irradiance reaching them. These fluctuations are due to variations in the thermal background caused by changes in the temperature of objects in the field of view of the detectors. This phenomenon is expected to provide a practical limit to the accuracy of radiometric measurements using not only HgCdTe detectors but also other detectors whose linearity is a function of the thermal background.
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