ARUSHA, Tanzania – Scientists from the Tanzania Geological Survey and Helium One of Norway in collaboration with scientists from Oxford and Durham universities have found a huge helium gas deposit in Tanzania.
Helium is trapped inside rocks in the Earth’s crust over billions of years, from the radioactive decay of the elements (uranium and thorium).
According to the Tanzania’s minister of energy and minerals, Prof. Sospeter Muhongo statement on his ministry’s website, “The deposits are estimated to be 54 billion cubic feet (BCf). This is a very commendable development. We will surely make it as a nation!”
Durham University PhD candidate Diveena Danabalan presented the group’s discovery of vast deposits of helium gas in the Lake Rukwa area in southern Tanzania, at the Goldschmidt geochemistry conference in Yokohama, Japan last week.
Helium — a colourless, odourless gas — is used to keep balloons afloat, but is also crucial for medical and scientific research. It is the only element capable of reliably cooling the superconducting magnets in MRI machines, and is used as a shielding gas in steel welding.
The discovery could help alleviate worries about a global helium shortage of the crucial gas that is used in medical diagnosis through MRI scanners.
At current rates of helium consumption, the recent discovery in Tanzania will supply the world for about seven years, according to Pete Barry at the University of Oxford’s Department of Earth Sciences; the methods used by the team could lead explorers to other helium gas fields.