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Local oxidation of silicon surfaces by atomic force microscopy is a very promising lithographic approach at nanometer scale. Here, we study the reproducibility, voltage dependence, and kinetics when the oxidation is performed by dynamic force microscopy modes. It is demonstrated that during the oxidation, tip and sample are separated by a gap of a few nanometers. The existence of a gap increases considerably the effective tip lifetime for performing lithography. A threshold voltage between the tip and the sample must be applied in order to begin the oxidation. The existence of a threshold voltage is attributed to the formation of a water bridge between tip and sample. It is also found that the oxidation kinetics is independent of the force microscopy mode used (contact or noncontact). © 1998 American Institute of Physics.