The effect of thermomechanically actuated pole tip protrusion on adhesive forces is characterized through model and experiment. The roughness of a thermomechanically actuated region is characterized by atomic force microscopy. Using the extracted roughness parameters and estimated apparent area associated with thermal actuation, the intermolecular forces at the head-disk interface (HDI) are calculated using the ISBL (improved sub-boundary lubrication) code. Both roughness and nominal area of contact are found to be significant factors determining adhesive forces. The adhesive forces for various HDI designs—including thermal actuation—are also characterized experimentally in situ using commercial hard disk drive samples. The experimental results are found to be consistent with the model calculations and imply certain advantages for thermally actuated HDI designs. However, the experiments also raise concerns regarding the field application of the technology.