The growth kinetics and mechanisms of thin aluminum-oxide films formed by the dry, thermal oxidation of a bare Al(431) substrate at a partial oxygen pressure of 1.33×10-4 Pa in the temperature range of 373–773 K were studied using x-ray photoelectron spectroscopy. The initial oxidation of the bare Al substrate proceeds by an island-by-layer growth mechanism, involving the lateral diffusion over the bare Al substrate surface of mobile oxygen species. At low temperatures (T≤573 K), an amorphous oxide film develops that attains a limiting (uniform) thickness. At high temperatures (T≫573 K), growth is not impeded at a limiting thickness. Kinetic analysis established the occurrences of two different oxide-film growth regimes: an initial regime of very fast oxide-film growth and a second, much slower oxidation stage that is observed only at T≫573 K. These results could be discussed in terms of electric-field controlled, interstitial, outward transport of Al cations through a close packing of O anions in the amorphous films, and inward diffusion of O along grain boundaries in the crystalline films, respectively. For the electric-field controlled Al cation motion, a value of 2.6 eV was determined for the rate-limiting energy barrier, which is located at the metal/oxide interface. This corresponds with a Mott potential of -1.6 V. © 2002 American Institute of Physics.