The effect of deposition pressure and controlled oxygen dosing on the diffusion barrier performance of thin film Ta to Cu penetration was investigated. In-situ resistivity, Auger compositional profiling, scanning electron microscopy and cross-sectional transmission electron microscopy were used to determine the electrical, chemical and structural changes that occur in Cu/Ta bilayers on Si upon heating. A 20 nm Ta barrier allowed the penetration of Cu at temperatures ranging from 320 to 630°C depending on processing conditions. Barrier failure temperature is dependent upon the deposition pressure and oxygen contamination at the Ta/Cu interface. This indicates the importance of understanding how deposition conditions affect diffusion barrier performance.