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Discovery of 'helium gas field' could deflate fears of world shortage

A man holds a string of helium balloons
Mark Makela | Corbis | Getty Images
A man holds a string of helium balloons

The discovery of a helium gas field in Tanzania's East African Rift Valley could help ease fears of a global helium shortage on our planet, according to the Washington Post, which reported the news Wednesday.

Helium is a critical substance used for MRI machines, rockets, water manufacturing, welding and many other industrial and medical activities.

Researchers announced at the Goldschmidt geochemistry conference in Japan Tuesday that heat from volcanic activity in the African region has helped unleash trapped helium from ancient rocks, according to the Post.

Although helium is one of the most abundant elements in the universe, a lot of it travels into Earth's atmosphere and seeps into space. The U.S. Geological survey estimates that there are about 35 billion cubic meters worth of helium left on the plant with the majority of it coming from the U.S.

The gas field can be accessed through drilling similar to the way oil and natural gas are extracted. There are several other sites in Tanzania that the researchers want to evaluate next but now there may be enough helium to power MRI manchines and rockets for many years, the report said.

Read more in the Washington Post's report.