GaN(0001) thick layers were grown on c-plane sapphire substrates by molecular-beam epitaxy using NH3. The evaporation of such GaN layers in vacuum was studied as a function of substrate temperature. In situ laser reflectivity was used to quantitatively measure the decomposition rate of the GaN(0001) plane. It is nearly zero below 750 degrees C, increases rapidly above 800 degrees C, and reaches 1 mu m/h at 850 degrees C. An activation energy of 3.6 eV is deduced for the thermal decomposition of GaN in vacuum. The evaporation rate as a function of the incident NH3 flux was also investigated for different substrate temperatures. A kinetic model is applied for the interpretation of the experimental results. (C) 1999 American Institute of Physics. [S0003-6951(99)02513-9].