The GaAs(001) step-terraced surface relief is studied under oxidation, wet oxide removal and thermal smoothing by ex situ atomic force microscopy with local monitoring of specific atomic steps using lithographic marks for surface area localization. Oxidation in the air and wet oxide removal lead to the formation of monatomic dips on terraces, while atomic steps keep their position and shape. Monitoring step mean position under thermal smoothing allows us to determine the deviation from equilibrium. The experimental smoothing kinetics is well described by Monte Carlo simulation. (C) 2017 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.