The mechanisms causing transient 193-nm optical absorption of collagen during ablative-fluence ArF excimer pulses are poorly understood. The preponderance of hypotheses proposed to explain this phenomenon, such as ultrafast secondary-structure denaturation of proteins and transient free radical formation, focus on the protein matrix and ignore potential contributions from other tissue components such as water. A substantial body of spectroscopic literature places 193 nm adjacent to a steep absorption edge of water that rises to 60,000 cm-1 at 163 nm; other evidence shows that this absorption edge shifts toward 193 nm upon hydrogen-bond breakage. In this paper we show that heating of water from 20-100°C increases the liquid's absorption coefficient. Further investigations using an infrared pump laser show a significant increase in absorption by water of a 193-nm probe beam. Based on this evidence, we speculate that 193-nm laser ablation of tissue may contain a photothermal component related to dynamic absorption of incident radiation by water.© (1995) COPYRIGHT SPIE--The International Society for Optical Engineering. Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.