A massive helium discovery in Tanzania will relieve short term supply constraints, as well as offering a new method to target and find the gas underground.
Helium is widely used in modern life, including for MRI scanners, welding, nuclear power generation and of course in the party planning sector. But there have been worries about shortages of supply, growing demand and rising prices for some years.
'We can apply this same strategy to other parts of the world with a similar geological history to find new helium resources. Excitingly, we have linked the importance of volcanic activity for helium release with the presence of potential trapping structures and this study represents another step towards creating a viable model for helium exploration. This is badly needed given the current demand for helium.' Dr Pete Barry, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Oxford
The find in East Africa is of at least 1.5 billion cubic metres of helium or just under seven times total global annual helium demand. That's enough helium to fill over 1.2 million MRI scanners, about 600,000 Olympic swimming pools, or sufficient to give every single person on Earth a squeaky voice for about 20 minutes.
Professor Christopher Ballentine at Oxford University led the team making the discovery.
'We sampled helium gas (and nitrogen) just bubbling out of the ground in the Tanzanian East African Rift valley...This is a game changer for the future security of society's helium needs and similar finds in the future may not be far away.' Professor Chris Ballentine, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Oxford