A Natural Laboratory for Understanding Volcano-Speleogenetic Processes and Planetary Caves


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The volcanic island of Lanzarote hosts an impressive variety of cavities formed by different volcanic processes. The presence of well preserved lava fields belonging to historic eruptions and more ancient and weathered quaternary and pliocene terrains and the association with an arid climate provide the unique opportunity of studying volcanic caves at different stages of evolution on the same volcanic island. The different mechanisms of lava tube emplacement can be observed in great detail, from the most recent pyroducts of different sizes formed during the Timanfaya eruption (1730–1736) to the exceptionally voluminous conduits of the Corona volcano, formed during the Last Glacial Maximum and partially submerged by the sea level upraise during the Holocene. In addition, other type of cavities, like explosive and geyser vents, “hornitos” and sinkholes in pyroclastic deposits offer the opportunity to extend the study to other important volcano-speleogenetic processes in different settings. All these cavities are easily accessible and present a variety of morphological, mineralogical, biological and microbiological significances, allowing for a wide range of multidisciplinary studies. The countless analogies with lava tube collapses and other potential volcanic cave features detected on the Moon and Mars also provide an unprecedented research ground that offers hints to solve some open issues in the interpretation of still unresolved planetary cavities. These characteristics make the Lanzarote and Chinijo Islands UNESCO Global Geopark an exceptional case where the protection and scientific outreach has been extended to the volcanic subsurface. In this chapter we offer a review of the current knowledge and existing scientific studies on the volcanic caves of Lanzarote and we discuss future researches and protection issues that need to be addressed in order to fully include this geoheritage in strategic plans of environmental protection.

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