Lava tube

Lava tube


Lava tubes are natural conduits through which lava travels beneath the surface of a lava flow, expelled by a volcano during an eruption. They can be actively draining lava from a source, or can be extinct, meaning the lava flow has ceased and the rock has cooled and left a long, cave-like channel.


Lava tubes are formed when an active low-viscosity lava flow develops a continuous and hard crust,which thickens and forms a roof above the still-flowing lava stream. [cite web
title =Lunar Lava Tubes Radiation Safety Analysis
work =Division for Planetary Sciences 2001 meeting
publisher =American Astronomical Society
month =November | year =2001
url =
accessdate =2007-08-07
] Tubes form in one of two ways: by the crusting over of lava channels, and from pahoehoe flows where the lava is moving under the surface. [cite web
title =Lava tube
work =Photo glossary of volcano terms
publisher =United States Geological Survey
year =2000
url =
accessdate =2007-08-07

Lava usually leaves the point of eruption in channels. These channels tend to stay very hot as their surroundings cool. This means they slowly develop walls around them as the surrounding lava cools and/or as the channel melts its way deeper. These channels can get deep enough to crust over, forming an insulating tube that keeps the lava molten and serves as a conduit for the flowing lava. These types of lava tubes tend to be closer to the lava eruption point.

Further away from the eruption point, lava can flow in an unchanneled, fanlike manner as it leaves its source, which is usually another lava tube leading back to the eruption point. Called pahoehoe flows, these areas of surface-moving lava cool, forming either a smooth or rough, ropy surface. The lava continues to flow this way until it begins to block its source. At this point, the subsurface lava is still hot enough to break out at a point, and from this point the lava begins as a new "source". Lava flows from the previous source to this breakout point as the surrounding lava of the pahoehoe flow cools. This forms an underground channel that becomes a lava tube.


A broad lava-flow field often consists of a main lava tube and a series of smaller tubes that supply lava to the front of one or more separate flows. When the supply of lava stops at the end of an eruption or lava is diverted elsewhere, lava in the tube system drains downslope and leaves partially empty cave-like conduits beneath the ground.

Such drained tubes commonly exhibit step marks on their walls that mark the various depths at which the lava flowed. Also, lava tubes generally have flat floors and roofs. Lava stalactites called lavacicles that hang from the roof are rare in lava tubes. However, short lavacicles on the ceiling of a lava tube form as the lava in the tube retreats and the viscous lava on the ceiling drips as it cools. Dripstone is created when lava splashes on the inside walls of the tubes.

Lava tubes can be up to 14-15 metres wide, though are often narrower, and run anywhere from 1-15 m below the surface. Lava tubes can also be extremely long; one tube from the Mauna Loa 1859 flow enters the ocean about 50 km (over 30 miles) from its eruption point, and the Cueva del Viento - Sobrado system on Teide, Tenerife island, is over 18 km long, due to extensive braided maze areas at the upper zones of the system.

A lava tube system in Kiama, Australia, consists of over 20 lava tubes, many of which are breakouts of a main lava tube. The largest of these lava tubes is 22 m in diameter and has columnar jointing due to the large cooling surface. Other tubes have concentric and radial jointing features. The tubes are infilled due to the low slope angle of emplacement.



* Undara Volcanic National Park - contains the remains of the Earth’s longest flow of lava originating from a single volcano. [cite web
title =Undara Volcanic National Park
work =
publisher =Environmental Protection Agency (Queensland)
year =2007
url =
accessdate =2007-08-07


* Nisga'a Memorial Lava Beds Provincial Park - contains one of Canada's most recent eruptions.


* Raufarhólshellir - One of the most accessible lava tubes in Iceland, since it is near Reykjavík and close to a main road.

* Surtshellir - For a long time, this was the longest known lava tube in the world. [cite web
title =Surtshellir-Stefánshellir system
work =Caves of Iceland
publisher =Showcaves
date =
url =
accessdate =2007-08-07

New Zealand

*Auckland, New Zealand has numerous examples of lava caves.
*Rangitoto Island, a island that formed 600-700 years ago in the Auckland harbour, has some well know lava tubes and caves

outh Korea

* Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes


* Ape Cave - May be the third longest lava tube in the continental United States.
* Lava Beds National Monument - The site of the largest concentration of lava tubes in the United States.
* [ Lava River Cave] in Oregon's Newberry National Volcanic Monument

ee also

* Lava cave
* Speleology
* Speleothem
* Caving
* Geology of the Moon
* Rimae Sirsalis


External links

* [ The Virtual Lava Tube] Large educational site on lava tube features and how they form, with lots of photos

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Look at other dictionaries:

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