Qatar, which currently supplies 25 percent of the global demand for helium as the world's second largest producer of the element, has been forced to stop production due to regional disputes and the economic boycott imposed by Saudi Arabia and several other countries.
According to Nature News reporter Declan Butler, the demand for helium has grown in recent years as it is used for medical and technological purposes, however the blockade imposed on Qatar may halt scientists from conducting important experiments.
A chemist in the field of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) Sophia Hayes said, "This is a situation that is changing day-by-day, so you can imagine we are watching it carefully."
Phil Kornbluth, head of U.S.-based industry consultancy, said that shortfalls would continue to occur over the next several months.
Qatar's neighboring countries will be the most effected by the halt in helium production, but others including India, China, Japan, Taiwan and Singapore will also feel the influence of the blockade.
Scientist have begun taking precautions to prepare themselves for the expected helium shortages. The American Physical Society (APS) and the American Chemical Society launched a program in 2016 to assist help researchers in negotiating lower prices and to facilitate more helium deliveries through joint bulk purchases. Researchers paying the highest prices or having unreliable shipment, are given preference by the program
APS analyst Mark Elsesser, said research groups at 12 universities have succeeded in reaching an average price reduction of 15 percent and improved shipment of the element.
Oleg Kirichek, head of support at The Science and Technology Facilities Council said, "Currently, we have enough helium stored to run operations for half a year. We are relatively safe for a while."
Beginning June 5, Bahrain, Comoros, Egypt, Maldives, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen's internationally backed government and one of Libya's three governments cut diplomatic and economic ties with Qatar over accusations that the Gulf nation funded militant groups – charges that Doha calls baseless.