The nucleation, growth, and coalescence of Cu2O islands due to oxidation of Cu(001) films were visualized by in situ ultrahigh-vacuum transmission electron microscopy. We have previously demonstrated that the nucleation and initial growth of copper oxides is dominated by oxygen surface diffusion. These surface models have been extended to quantitatively represent the coalescence behavior of copper oxidation in the framework of the Johnson–Mehl–Avrami–Kolmogorov theory. An excellent agreement exists between the experimental data of nucleation to coalescence with the surface model. The implication could be an alternate paradigm for passivation and oxidation, since classic theories assume uniform film growth. © 2002 American Institute of Physics.