The growth rate of Bragg gratings written using 193-nm light from an ArF excimer laser is shown to be non-linear with the pulse energy density for Er3+ co-doped Al silica. This yields a refractive-index increase up to a few 10-3. We then use phase-shift interferometry to measure the sample surface topography following exposure. Subsequently, we formulate an inhomogeneous stress model to analyse the observed change of volume within the core material. Below pulse energies of 550 mJ/cm2, the results show that refractive-index changes are primarily due to a densification process. At higher pulse energies material re-expansion occurs. © 2009 Springer-Verlag.