Now it seems that they will be spared that fate, as re-analysis of “life-saving” helium deposits discovered in Tanzania last year suggests that there could be almost twice as much gas present there as the initially estimated 1.5 billion cubic metres – and with new possibilities of more to be found elsewhere.

Helium is the second most abundant element in the known universe, yet has always been considered relatively rare on Earth, where the main deposits were found in the USA.

The light gas is used to cool MRI scanners, in gas chromatography and mass spectroscopy and as a rocket fuel – apart from its application in mixed-gas diving and party balloons.

A team of geologists from Oxford University found the Tanzanian deposit after realising that volcanic activity was releasing helium trapped deep underground into shallower pockets near the planet’s surface.

In their initial estimates of the scale of their discovery, they had however allowed air into the sample and so underestimated the density of the helium reserves.

This has now been measured using new apparatus – and, according to a report in Live Science, the new estimates are still thought likely to be conservative.

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