A large helium gas field has been found in Tanzania using a new exploration approach, giving a boost to the lighter-than-air gas that has recently been in short supply.
According to the BBC News
, helium, best known for helping party balloons float, is more importantly used in spaceships, telescopes, radiation monitors, and MRI scanners. Until the new discovery, helium was usually found in small quantities during oil and gas drilling.
The new helium detection approach was developed by a group from Oxford and Durham universities while working with Helium One, a Norway-based helium exploration company, said a statement from Oxford
The first time it was used led to what is being called a "world class" helium field in Tanzania, which geologists are calling a "game-changer."
The Oxford University statement said that volcanic activity provides the intense heat necessary to release the gas from ancient, helium-bearing rocks. Volcanoes in the Tanzanian East African Rift Valley have released helium from ancient, deep-seated rocks and have trapped the gas in shallower gas fields.
"By combining our understanding of helium geochemistry with seismic images of gas trapping structures, independent experts have calculated a probable resource of 54 billion cubic feet in just one part of the rift valley," said Chris Ballentine of Oxford's Department of Earth Sciences. "This is enough to fill over 1.2 million medical MRI scanners."
Ballentine said the Tanzania discovery is a big boost for the global industry, adding that the total helium reserves in the United States is 153 billion cubic feet.
"We can apply this same strategy to other parts of the world with a similar geological history to find new helium resources," Pete Barry, of the University of Oxford, said in the university's statement.
"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," Barry added.
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