Welcome to the lava tube portion of the Virtual Cave. Lava tube caves are found throughout the world in places where fluid lava has flown over the surface. The longest and most vertically extensive lava tubes known are on the Big Island of Hawai`i. Our idealized lava tube cross-section is based on the tubes there, and most of the photos are from there. Lava tubes are found in the western U.S.A. (Washington, California, Oregon, Nevada, Idaho, New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona), the Canary Islands, Galapagos Islands, Italy, Japan, Korea, Kenya, Mexico, and many other volcanic regions. Most tubes form when fluid lava flows down the sides of volcanoes, the upper layer begins to cool, and the lava beneath continues to flow in tubular conduits beneath the surface. Due to the insulating effects of the hardened lava above, molten lava is able to travel a considerable distance underground with very little cooling. In Hawaii, lava tubes have carried fluid lavas 50 or more miles from their source!  Tubes may also form when lava follows trenches or gulleys on the surface, which then roof over as lava accumulates along the top edges.

Lava tubes contain many features similar to those in limestone caves, such as stalactites and stalagmites, helictites, and a sort of flowstone. Most of the features in the diagram were made when the cave was active and during the early cooling stage. Secondary minerals may be deposited in the tubes later, such as gypsum or calcite crystals, but these tend to be on a much smaller scale than you can find in limestone caves.


To take a tour of the wondrous world of lava tubes, select a feature in context on our very cool Virtual Lava Tube Map (drawn by master lava tube cartographer Carlene Allred) or choose from the list above it. Not all of the items in the text list are represented on the image map. Those are shown in all capital letters, so be sure to check these newer pages out.

Start here: BIRTH of a LAVA TUBE

Aa lava
Aprons (slipbanks)
Backflow
Blades
Braided Mazes
Breakdown
BRIDGES
Cauliflower Aa lava
COLOR in lava tubes
Contraction Cracks
Cupolas
Cutbanks

Drip Stalagmites
Entrances

Flow Ledges
FLOW LINES

Glaze
Gutters
Lava Balls
Lavafalls
Lava Lakes
Lava Roses
Lava Seal

Levees
LININGS
MINERALS
Pahoehoe Lava
PASSAGE TYPES
Roots
Runners
Settled Crust
Sharktooth Stalactites

Sinuous Passage

Skylights

Splash Stalactites
Stretched Lava
Sunken Plunge Pools

TREE MOLDS

Tube-inTube
TUBE SLIME
Tubular Lava Helictites
Tubular Lava Stalactites
Upwelled Lava
Welded Breakdown
Windows


Or choose a feature from the map, which shows how they relate to each other:




Check out my new book on lava tubes, based on the Virtual Lava Tube, called CAVES OF FIRE: INSIDE AMERICA'S LAVA TUBES.

It is both a guide to lava tube features (with many more examples of each than shown here on the website) and describes and pictures many lava tubes that you can easily find and visit in national, state, and county parks and forests. It has 128 pages with 345 color images.

Now available through the National Speleological Society Bookstore

 

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The Virtual Cave Created: August 4, 2000
Last update: December 11, 2008
Author: Dave Bunnell
Reviewed by Kevin & Carlene Allred