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The deformation mechanisms of silicon {001} surfaces during nanoscratching were found to depend strongly on the loading conditions. Nanoscratches with increasing load were performed at 2 μm/s (low velocity) and 100 μm/s (high velocity). The load-penetration-distance curves acquired during the scratching process at low velocity suggests that two deformation regimes can be defined, an elasto-plastic regime at low loads and a fully plastic regime at high loads. High resolution scanning electron microscopy of the damaged location shows that the residual scratch morphologies are strongly influenced by the scratch velocity and the applied load. Micro-Raman spectroscopy shows that after pressure release, the deformed volume inside the nanoscratch is mainly composed of amorphous silicon and Si-XII at low scratch speeds and of amorphous silicon at high speeds. Transmission electron microscopy shows that Si nanocrystals are embedded in an amorphous matrix at low speeds, whereas at high speeds the transformed zone is completely amorphous. Furthermore, the extend of the transformed zone is almost independent of the scratching speed and is delimited by a dislocation rich area that extends about as deep as the contact radius into the surface. To explain the observed phase and defect distribution a contact mechanics based decompression model that takes into account the load, the velocity, the materials properties and the contact radius in scratching is proposed. It shows that the decompression rate is higher at low penetration depth, which is consistent with the observation of amorphous silicon in this case. The stress field under the tip is computed using an elastic contact mechanics model based on Hertz's theory. The model explains the observed shape of the transformed zone and suggests that during load increase, phase transformation takes place prior to dislocation nucleation. © 2005 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim.