Optical emission spectroscopy (OES), absorption measurements, and thermal energy rate analysis were used in tandem with numerical models to characterize microwave argon plasmas. A WAVEMAT (model MPDR-3135) microwave diamond deposition system was used to generate argon plasmas at 5 Torr. Three excited state number densities (4p, 5p, and 5d) were obtained from the OES measurements, and a fourth excited state number density (4s) was obtained from the absorption measurements. Further, power absorbed in the substrate was monitored. A self-consistent two-dimensional argon model coupled with an electromagnetic field model and a 25-level two-dimensional (2D)-collisional-radiative model (CRM) was developed and validated with the experimental measurements. The 2D model provides the gas and electron temperature distributions, and the electron, ion, and 4s state number densities, which are then iteratively fed into the electromagnetic and CRM models. Both the numerically predicted thermal energy rates and excited state densities agreed, within the experimental and numerical uncertainties, with the experimental results. © 2003 American Institute of Physics.