We numerically explore the nonlinear dynamics of the oscillating cantilever tip in tapping mode atomic force microscopy. The cantilever dynamics are determined by complex force interactions between the sample surface and the oscillating cantilever tip which are dominated by attractive, adhesive, and repulsive contributions depending on the instantaneous position of the cantilever. We use a model proposed by Zitzler et al that includes a capillary force interaction due to the thin film of water that covers all surfaces as a result of ambient humidity. As the cantilever approaches the surface a meniscus is formed and as the cantilever retracts this water layer forms a neck and eventually breaks. This introduces hysteresis since the formation of the meniscus and the breaking of the water neck occur at different spatial locations during an oscillation of the cantilever. Using forward-time simulation with event handling techniques tailored for situations with rapid changes in force interactions we find three classes of steady-state dynamics: (i) a branch of solutions with periodic dynamics and large amplitude of oscillation; (ii) a branch of solutions with periodic dynamics and small amplitude of oscillation; (iii) windows of irregular aperiodic dynamics. We quantify the global basins of attraction for these solutions by performing a large set of numerical simulations over a wide range of initial conditions. Our findings provide a useful framework for further studies interested in controlling these dynamics.

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