A lava tube forms when a stream of lava is rolling downhill, and the outside of the flow cools and solidifies before the inner flow. The hot lava inside eventually runs out, and meanwhile more lava and rock has buried the tube, leaving a cave.
It’s been almost two years since the Cumbre Vieja volcano erupted in the Canary Islands covered La Palma island with 200 million cubic meters of lava, with an average depth of 50 feet. Hundreds of residents are still waiting to go home, and construction of new communities has begun, even thought the lava is still hot in places. That leaves scientists scrambling to study the eruption and its effects before the lava is moved or destroyed. It’s a risky endeavor, as the lava tubes are just barely cool enough to enter with protective gear, and you can’t tell if the rock underneath is stable enough to complete the journey. The ceilings can fall, too.
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But the research goes on. So far, explorers have found stalactites and stalagmites formed by dripping lava, and mineral deposits that leaves streaks of colors behind, all within just two years of the eruption. If these lava tubes survive long enough, they could become home to microorganism and develop their own ecosystem. Read about the lava tubes of La Palma and the scientists who dare enter them at Smithsonian. -via Damn Interesting