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.
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.
Bison Freezers and Hunter-Gatherer Mobility: Archaeological Analysis of Cold Lava Tube Caves on Idaho's Snake River Plain
Aug 01, 2003; ABSTRACT Archaeological evidence indicates that cold storage of bison meat was consistently practiced on the eastern Snake River...