Science of Caves


  • Lava tubes are formed in hot gaseous lava known as pahoehoe.
  • The major geologic features in lava tubes are created by heat and flowing basalt.
  • Secondary mineralization occurs in lava tubes from leaching of trace minerals by water. 
  • Trace minerals include calcium, sulfates, and iron.


  • There are many cave-adapted insects including: oliaris plant hoppers, crickets, millipedes and moths.
  • Owls and birds sometimes utilize the entrances and twilight zones of lava tubes.
  • Endangered native fauna can be found near cave entrances.
  • The endangered Hawaiian Hoary Bat can be found near lava tubes but do not live inside them


  • Many lava tubes show signs of visitation by ancient Hawaiians.
  • Lava tubes were used to collect water.
  • Caves were used for land boundaries in ancient times. 
  • Caves were sometimes used for refuge in times of war. 
  • Petroglyphs have been found in and around some lava tubes.  

There are ongoing scientific studies being conducted in lava tubes just like other caves around the world. The cartography, biologic and archeological study of these environments will help scientists to discover new and exciting information about the world underground.

There is science and interpretation being done in Hawaiian lava tubes. The field office at Kula Kai Cave is a hub for these activities and the scientists that do these studies. It is also included for students interested in these activities and available for school projects. Enjoy.