In this paper, vertical scanning interferometry (VSI) and atomic force microscopy (AFM) were used to characterize the topography of several nanofiltration and reverse osmosis membrane surfaces. Comparing roughness results from the two different characterization techniques revealed unique results for the various membrane surfaces. Roughness values tended to be higher from the interferometry measurements compared to those from AFM measurements for the same membranes. This was attributed to the inability of the AFM to capture dramatic changes in surface height of several microns or more. Based on interferometric measurements surface roughness was also found to increase with increasing scan-size up to a scan-size of 250,000 mu m(2) after which it remained relatively constant. Because such large scan-sizes are too large to be captured through AFM measurements interferometry appears to provide a more comprehensive characterization of membrane surface roughness. (c) 2006 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.