An environmental input is defined as an apparently real input to a measurement system that is actually caused by a change in the environmental conditions surrounding the measurement system. The fact that the static and dynamic characteristics specified for measuring instruments are only valid for particular environmental conditions. These specified conditions must be reproduced as closely as possible during calibration exercises because, away from the specified calibration conditions, the characteristics of measuring instruments vary to some extent and cause measurement errors. The magnitude of this environment-induced variation is quantified by the two constants known as sensitivity drift and zero drift, both of which are generally included in the published specifications for an instrument. Such variations of environmental conditions away from the calibration conditions are sometimes described as modifying inputs to the measurement system because they modify the output of the system. When such modifying inputs are present, it is often difficult to determine how much of the output change in a measurement system is due to a change in the measured variable and how much is due to a change in environmental conditions. This is illustrated by the following example. Suppose we are given a small closed box and told that it may contain either a mouse or a rat. We are also told that the box weighs 0.1kg when empty. If we put the box onto bathroom scales and observe a reading of 1.0 kg, this does not immediately tell us what is in the box because the reading may be due to one of three things:
(a) A 0.9 kg rat in the box (real input)
(b) An empty box with a 0.9 kg bias on the scales due to a temperature change (environmental input)
(c) A 0.4 kg mouse in the box together with a 0.5 kg bias (real + environmental inputs).
Thus, the magnitude of any environmental input must be measured before the value of the measured quantity (the real input) can be determined from the output reading of an instrument. In any general measurement situation, it is very difficult to avoid environmental inputs because it is either impractical or impossible to control the environmental conditions surrounding the measurement system.
System designers are therefore charged with the task of either reducing the susceptibility of measuring instruments to environmental inputs or alternatively, quantifying the effect of environmental inputs and correcting for them in the instrument output reading. The techniques used to deal with environmental inputs and minimize their effect on the final output measurement follow a number of routes.