Ultraviolet photoelectron spectroscopy (UPS) and electron spectroscopy by deexcitation of metastable noble gas atoms (MDS) were used to follow the continuous oxidation of Cs films. While UPS has a finite information depth, MD probes only the properties of the outermost atomic layer. Small doses of O 2 cause the formation of a "monolayer" of Cs 11O3 in which the O2- ions are incorporated below the surface, while the surface itself consists merely of metallic Cs atoms. Further uptake of oxygen leads to a continuous transformation of the subsurface layer into Cs2O2, while a small concentration of adsorbed O atoms builds up on the surface which act as nucleation centers for subsurface oxidation. Finally, the surface layer is completely oxidized into CsO2 which then retards further oxygen penetration into the bulk. The chemical state of the surface can be directly correlated with the associated change of the work function. A monolayer of Cs adsorbed on a Cu(110) surface exhibits quite different properties. © 1987 American Institute of Physics.