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Optical microscopy, synchrotron white beam x-ray topography (SWBXT), and high resolution x-ray diffraction (HRXRD) were used to study the distribution of basal plane dislocations in bulk 4H silicon carbide crystals grown by the physical vapor transport method. An etch pit array was observed on the silicon face of KOH-etched off-cut wafers. The arrays were aligned parallel to each other and perpendicular to the off-cut direction. The etch pits were oval-shaped, which is characteristic of basal plane dislocations. Corresponding array images have been observed by SWBXT. Based on the characteristic distribution, the etch pit arrays are interpreted as the slip traces of high temperature deformation during the growth process. Thermoelastic stress is proposed as the plausible cause of the deformation. In addition, basal plane dislocation pileups were found in the proximity of polygonized threading edge dislocation arrays. SWBXT and HRXRD were used to study the misorientation related to such dislocation structure. The pileups are interpreted as the origin of the basal-plane-tilt domains in SiC crystals. © 2002 American Institute of Physics.