'Life Saving' Helium Reserve Discovered In Tanzania Could Solve Shortage

  • Mary Nichols , Design & Trend Contributor
  • Jun, 28, 2016, 09:33 PM
Tags : science
Helium Gas
(Photo : Getty Images/Matthew Simmons) Helium is crucial in the use of medical equipment including MRI scanners.

Scientists suggest that the world is rapidly running out of helium gas, but the discovery of a large helium reserve in Tanzania could address the critical shortage in the short term.

Despite being one of the most abundant elements in the known universe, Earth's helium supplies are depleting at a rapid rate, writes Tech Times.

Helium is known for making your voice squeaky when inhaled -- but it is also used in medical MRI scanners, in spacecraft launches and nuclear energy. 

In 2010, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Robert Richardson stated that Earth's existing non-renewable helium supplies would run out by 2035 due to over consumption of helium. This makes the search for new sources of helium an urgent task.

However, a team of scientists from the United Kingdom has made a 'life-saving' discovery alongside an exploration company known as Helium One.

Pioneering a new method to find helium, experts from Durham University and the University of Oxford uncovered a large helium reserve in Tanzania.

They found that volcanoes situated in the Tanzanian East African Rift, have released helium from ancient rocks deep in the earth's crust - trapping the gas in shallower fields.

The new findings suggest that the processes involved in volcanic activity are necessary in the creation of new helium reserves as the heat releases helium from the ancient rocks that contain the gas.

The scientists and experts from the exploration company combined this knowledge with geochemical sampling and seismic imaging in order to isolate and identify the Tanzanian helium reserve.

Oxford Professor Chris Ballentine said that the reserve they have discovered is believed to measure roughly 54 billion cubic feet, according to a press release.

"This is enough to fill over 1.2 million medical MRI scanners," Professor Ballentine said in a press release.

However, if the helium gas is located too close to the volcano when released - it will mix with other gases. Extracting pure helium is an expensive and time-consuming process, which researchers are hoping to find a solution to. 

Researchers are working to find the "goldilocks zone" that exists between the volcanoes and the Earth's ancient crust, Divenna Danabalan of Durham University said in a press release. The optimum balance between volcanic dilution and helium release should exist within this zone.

The researchers presented the discovery at a geochemistry conference in Yokohama, Japan.

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