Teaching Notes

Grade Level

Interpreting several data sets and providing a valid conclusion requires a higher level of cognition. However it is not required that the students find or manipulate their own data sets. This can be adjusted for students in higher grade levels who can manipulate data in MS Excel spread sheets as well as download data from the source.

Learning Goals

After completing this unit, students will be able to:

  • Analyze data sets and figures to interpret differences in past, present and predicted future climate data.
  • Create and interpret scatter plots within a spreadsheet program.
  • Use data to make valid conclusions and predictions.
  • Describe climate change affects apple tree growth in New York State using appropriate content vocabulary


New York State’s ClimAID report states that New York’s Climate has changed and will continue to change. This climate change is predicted to increase the temperatures in New York State, which will harm cold temperature crops. The agricultural industry in New York State contributes 4.5 billion dollars annually to the state’s economy. Over 75 million acres are devoted to farm use, covering approximately one fourth of the land in New York. New York has been known for its state fruit, the apple.  New York ranks second in the United States in apple production, producing approximately 29.5 million bushels of apples annually. Apple trees are vulnerable to an increase in summer and winter temperatures, and changes in the length of the apple-growing season. Some varieties of apple trees are more susceptible to a change in climate than others. The state’s largest apple crops, the Empire and McIntosh apple, are particularly threatened by rising temperatures. How the apple growers plan their orchards in response to this predicted increase in temperature will determine the future success or failure of the apple industry in New York State.

Key Concepts and Vocabulary

Climate: Climate is commonly defined as weather averaged over a long period of time; the standard is to average data over 30 years. Climate encompasses data from temperature, humidity, wind, atmospheric pressure, precipitation and other meteorological measurements over a long period of time. It is affected by latitude, terrain and location relative to bodies of water. Various climates are classified according to their average and typical ranges of meteorological characteristics.

Climate Models: Climate models use quantitative methods to simulate the interactions of the atmosphere, oceans, land surface, and ice. They are used to study the dynamics of the climate system and make projections of the future climate.

Weather: The state of the atmosphere at a place and time as regards to heat, cloudiness, dryness, sunshine, wind, rain, etc. Weather is daily, and defined at the moment.

Frost: Frost is the deposition of water vapor from saturated air, usually on surfaces. Frost occurs when the temperature of solid surfaces are cooled to or below freezing (0°C, 32°F). Many plants including the buds on apple trees can be damaged by frost. 

Growing Season: The length of the growing season is described as the number of days between the last frost of spring and the first frost of winter, when native crops can grow.

Hardiness Zone: Hardiness zones are geographically defined areas where a specific category of plant life is capable of growing, as defined by climate conditions.

Chilling Requirement: Chilling requirement is the minimum period of cold weather required after which a fruit-bearing tree will blossom. This is often referred to as chill hours. Chill hours are calculated by adding the number of hours from November 1st to January 1st when the temperature is below 45°F (7.2°C).

Heat Damage: Too many days over 90°F (32.2°C) will harm apple trees or their fruit.


  • Relationship between the survival of trees and hardiness zones, chilling requirements, seasonal last frosts and growing seasons. This requires a basic knowledge of climate and temperature change over time.
  • Climate is not synonymous with weather.
  • Hardiness zones depend on the lowest temperature of the year.
  • Chill hours are closely tied to the hardiness zone but are not synonymous.
  • The last frost in the spring and the first frost of the autumn control the growing season.
  • As the spring weather warms it creates a window where late frosts occur. This increases the risk of premature budding that is often killed or severely damaged by a late frost. This hinders fruit production for the year.
  • Temperature and weather are large factors that affect tree growth and success of a species, but they not the only factors. Precipitation, extremes in weather, cloud cover, pests and weeds play a role in the growth of trees; however, the focus of this activity will be temperature and precipitation change.
  • The change in climate does not indicate the end of agriculture and the apple industry. Mitigation and adaption measure exist, for example changing the type of apple tree grown.

Background Information

Tree fruit production is usually located in regions with 150 frost-free days and a U.S. hardiness zone of at least five. Apple trees are no exception, and New York’s climate currently provides those requirements.

The apple industry in New York State is second in the United States behind Washington State. New York produces apples in three major regions: the Hudson Valley, Champlain Valley and the southern shore of Lake Ontario. Apples thrive in these areas because of the proximity to large bodies of water. . Large bodies of water benefit apple trees because unfrozen bodies of water remain warmer than the surrounding air, reducing winter damage. Conversely in the spring, orchards along large bodies of water stay cooler than the air surrounding them, which helps counter warm air. This reduces the potential damage from a late frost and delays the premature bloom of apple flowers. In the spring and fall the lake affect creates a buffer against extreme weather conditions.  Lakeside orchards typically remain cooler during the summer reducing the amount of days above 90F and corresponding heat damage. Apples prefer a steady predictable weather pattern throughout a year; extreme weather patterns threaten the growth and success of apple orchards throughout the state. Scientists predict that climate change will cause the regional climate to become more variable and extreme. In terms of apples this means more frequent and intense rainstorms and droughts. Apples are more tolerant to wet seasons than droughts; however with wet seasons come apple scab, damage to foliage and other diseases. As a whole apples require 114cm (44.88 in) of water between April and August with a preferred interval of water every 7-10 days.

Most commercial orchards are comprised of six different varieties that are grown in large quantities. These six varieties are chosen based on the survival requirements of apple trees. Of those survival requirements, hardiness zones, precipitation, and the temperatures through the growing season are vital to the long term success of apple trees. Hardiness zones focus heavily on trees’ ability to withstand the minimum temperatures of a region. Ten degree Fahrenheit levels split hardiness zones and the USDA has determined that there are approximately 11 different hardiness zones (Table 1).

Hardiness zones are not uniform over an entire state; New York State currently has nine different hardiness zones (Figure 1). Each hardiness zone is representative of the differing climates within the state.

As the temperature changes it is unlikely that it will change uniformly over the entire state. Therefore, the hardiness zones and popular apple producing locations will change at an individual rate. The areas of concern for changing hardiness zones are those where the most apples are currently produced. Apples are produced in larger quantities next to New York’s three largest bodies of water: along the Hudson Valley, the southern shore of Lake Ontario and the Champlain Valley. New York State Apple Growers Association states that the largest apple crops come from the following counties: Clinton, Wayne, Ulster, Orleans, Niagara, Dutchess, Onondaga, Orange, Monroe and Columbia. These top apple producing counties are highlighted in green in Figure 2 below.

The higher the temperature, the higher the hardiness zone number, and the warmer the growing season temperature will be. The average annual minimum temperature or the coldest temperature of the year for each year averaged over 10 years is used to classify hardiness zones. As the minimum temperature increase the hardiness zones will increase as well. Tree species are typically classified by hardiness zones. Similar to hardiness zones apple trees require chill hours. Apples have the highest chilling requirement of all trees. Apple trees (variety dependent) require between 600 and 1000 chill hours. The growing season may not determine the survival of an apple tree; however it does dictate how well they produce fruit. Growing seasons are usually determined by climate and elevation. Growing seasons define plant selection. Depending on geographical locations, temperature, sunlight hours and rainfall are critical factors. The length of a growing season determines what crops can be grown in a region. Some crops require long growing seasons while others have short growing seasons and mature rapidly. Heat in the summer negatively affects growth and fruit production. When temperatures exceed 90 degrees Fahrenheit apple trees experience heat stress. Heat stress reduces the photosynthesis process and stunts the growth of trees and fruit. The increase in the number of consistent days above 90 degrees Fahrenheit is an indicator that the location receiving the constant strain of higher temperatures will not remain a suitable location for apple trees.  The number of days over 90 degrees Fahrenheit is another way to indicate rising temperatures during the summer season. A summarized table of the popular apple varieties and their required climate conditions is provided In Table 2. Students will find this information in the apple fact sheet.  If required, they can find additional information in the following resources.

All climate predictions used in this activity are made by a climate model. Models run various scenarios based on possible outcomes of the way the population continues to use our resources. What is referred to as an A1 scenario bases the modeled projection on a global and economic focus, where the population continues to use our fossil fuel resources extensively; this is the worst case scenario used here. A B1 scenario has a global and environmental perspective with a focus on reducing global carbon and greenhouse gas emissions. B1 scenarios run models based on the assumption that we reduce our carbon output and work towards a more environmentally friendly way of life. This is the best case scenario.

Table 2: Popular apple varieties and their required growing requirements.
The water requirements are valid for all varieties. 

Other Resources:

Tree Information as well as a “find our hardiness zone” tool http://www.arborday.org/GeneralInfo/SiteSearch.cfm?criteria=Hardiness+Zone

Climate data for New York State (and other North East States), current and future predictions www.northeastclimatedata.org

Wikipedia Definition and general information about climate www.wikipedia.org/wiki/climate

New York State Apple Growers Association: Fast Facts on Apple Production in the state http://www.nyapplecountry.com/fastfacts.htm

Instructional Strategies

General Approach

Before beginning the activity students must have a solid understanding of the difference between climate and weather. Students then must learn aspects of plant growing requirements including hardiness zone and growing season. They must understand the relative importance of hardiness zones and growing seasons to plants and trees.

This activity can be completed without Internet or computer access; color printed copies of data could be provided. Students will be able to accomplish more, at a more challenging level, if they are able to access the Internet to find their own data and tree information. Students may work alone or with a partner on a computer. With Internet access students will be able to find their own data, look up their hardiness zone and others for New York State, as well as investigate trees in addition to those provided and their own climate data. A logical flow chart for the project is shown below in Figure 3. As shown the fundamental project requires the students to choose apple varieties for their apple orchard that account for expected changes in climate over the next several decades. 


Anticipatory Set Ask students, “What do trees need to survive and produce fruit?”  Record/post their answers on board. Try to separate their responses into categories: natural factors (weather or climate related) and human influences (fertilizer, pest control etc.). Guide the discussion/ student responses towards climate, growing seasons and hardiness zones. On the board add any important factors and notes that students didn’t come up with and that will aid them with the activity of designing their own orchards.

Procedure Student ability level dependent, gather information on each climate factor necessary from one of the provided sources and the instructions included alongside the example of a modeled orchard for New Hampshire. There are several formats where students may gather data, some requiring more time or cognitive development. Upper level students can access data directly from the North East Climate Data web page following the instructions in NEClimateData_Tutorial.doc

Reviewing the maps provided by the Northeast climate data website are a good way to review a wide range of climate data.  For apples, the critical indicators to consider are:

•          Hardiness zone

•          Days over 90°F

•          Growing season length

Additional MS Excel data are available to supplement some of the data. The data in Historical_Last_Frost_Data.xlsLast_Frost_Data.xls and Precipitation.xls files provide numerical values for the amount of precipitation as well as data that aren’t provided on Northeast Climate data. These data files can be manipulated and graphed by the students. The data contained in these files is also graphed and contained in separate worksheets within these documents as an alternative if time, student ability/interest, or familiarity with Excel is a constraint.  For those without internet access the PowerPoint document Data_for_Students.ppt has the necessary information for students to complete the assignment.

Students should be able to complete the activity on their own. However, some may need guidance. Note – the teacher may provide the data source and a set of instructions on how to retrieve their own data, and students can find what they need. Figure 4 provides an additional visual resource for students to follow.

Optional – to expand their thinking have students choose another location in New York State with a different climate and compare the orchard they created to those that exist already. For example: an apple orchard in New York now, an orchard in New York in 2050 and a current orchard in California.

Closure Have the class compare their orchards, and discuss their findings such as the types of trees, locations within New York State. What is the expected (predicted?) hardiness zone of Northern New York, and how much change, if any, should people expect to see in their apples choices?  The discussion should yield the following conclusions:

  • The hardiness zones in New York State have already changed by going up a hardiness zone; hardiness zones are not the same throughout the state and will change at different rates as well.
  • According to the IPCC Model if the temperatures continue to rise as they currently are, the hardiness zones in Northern New York will raise another hardiness zone interval.
  • Some varieties will survive the predicated hardiness zone change for 2050. However there are other trees that will be better suited for the changing climate. Also the popular regions for apples may change within the state. Students should be able to define specific apple tree varieties that will be affected, such as McIntosh apples, along the southern shore of Lake Ontario.

Learning Contexts

The activity could be done alongside a biology unit where the other factors that go into the success of a tree are investigated, such as cell growth and photosynthesis, and how these would be influenced by increasing temperature and changing climate.

To emphasize the change in climate and how much it affects the types of trees and plants grown in a given area, the activity can be done alongside a world studies or geography lesson. Teachers would be able to have students chose a remote, unfamiliar location and find out what factors affect climate, and what agriculture is like compared to what they’re familiar with.

One major factor in building an orchard is the expense. The activity of building an orchard can be tied into a math unit by giving the students a budget to follow and prices of trees and other expenses.

Science Standards New York State 1996 edition: Commencement level

Standard 4: Students will understand and apply scientific concepts, principles, and theories pertaining to the physical setting and living environment and recognize the historical development of ideas in science.

Key Idea 6:1- Explain factors that limit growth of individuals and populations

Key Idea 6:3- Explain how living and non-living environments change over time and respond to disturbances.

Standard 7: Students will apply the knowledge and thinking skills of mathematics, science and technology to address real-life problems and make informed decisions.

Key Idea 1:3- Design solutions to real world problems on a community, national , or global scale, using technological design process that integrates scientific  investigation and rigorous mathematical analysis of the problem and the solution.


A completed orchard design, including location, apple tree choices and brief descriptions of why each choice was made should be written up and handed in for grading.

Other Resources

Apple Fact Sheet

This resource is a fact sheet to give to students before completing the activity. It provides any necessary background information for completing the activity so that the students do not need to search for it in other locations.

Student worksheet and instructions

Excel spreadsheets with weather data


Last frost date in spring

Summary presentation file with map results (to use if internet access not available or for younger students.)

Data Sources

North East Climate historical data and predicted climate: http://www.northeastclimatedata.org
Northeast Climate data tutorial


[i]          http://www.usna.usda.gov/Hardzone/hzm-ne1.html

[ii]          http://www.gardening.cornell.edu/weather/zones.html

[iii]          http://www.yellowmaps.com/map/new-york-labeled-map-130.htm

[iv]          http://www.nyapplecountry.com/fastfacts.htm

Case Study

Creating your own Apple Orchard in 2050

What trees do you plant in your back yard? Imagine you’re in the agriculture business, more specifically you own and run an apple orchard.  Now, what do you consider when you choose what type of apple tree to plant? Planting a successful orchard requires a significant amount of time and planning. Considering the changing climate, what type of apple trees would you plant for a prosperous apple orchard in 2050?

Add questions for the students to consider both in terms of interpreting data in the case study as well as to apply to their own investigation for a different location (etc.).

The location of interest for the case study is New Hampshire, more specifically the southern region around the capital (Concord, NH).  The popular apple trees in New Hampshire are similar to those in New York State; for the case study the focus are two ‘New Hampshire favorite’ apple varieties, the McIntosh and Red Delicious apples. The table below is an organized collection of the data from the completed example of the student worksheet.  The data under the Apple Varieties (yellow) were found from the fact sheet.  The climate variables (green) were determined from the Northeast Climate data web site or the summary presentation file.  The last column provides a synthesis summary of the information between possible choices in the apple varieties and the climate conditions.


The data above about the past and future data suggests that the McIntosh and Red Delicious will still be able to grow and survive the winters in NH will receiving adequate chilling hours. However McIntosh and Red Delicious apples will not be able to survive much longer in Southern New Hampshire due to the increasing hardiness zones and their given preferred hardiness zones in the apple factsheet. The lengthening of the growing seasons will allow for a larger crop, and reduce the need for hot houses that currently extend a shorter growing season. For outside orchards these climate changes will bring an earlier harvest date provided the day of the last spring frost comes earlier in the season. Making a switch of apple varieties from McIntosh and Red Delicious to Golden Delicious or Granny Smith will be provide a tree that can withstand the warmer winters and any further change in hardiness zones. The Granny smith apple will be able to withstand the warmer springs and any late frosts since it blooms in late May. The precipitation for the state of New Hampshire will increase but it will not increase enough to be too wet throughout the entire growing season. Apple growers will need to water their trees less, and watch for root rot more carefully. Looking at the hardiness zone map of New Hampshire in Figure 1 and Figure 2, the McIntosh apple and Empire will still be able to grow and thrive in the northern part of the state, where it was too cold for apples to grow before. This could become a new industry to the northern section of the state. 

Now that apple tree characteristics and climate change are understood, a new apple orchard is to be designed. The Johnny Appleseed Apple Orchard will be located on the shore of Lake Winnipesaukee, a large lake in the southern portion of New Hampshire. Here Granny Smith and Golden Delicious apples will be grown so that the new orchard will be able to withstand a changing climate. For a broken down process similar to the one students are asked to complete, see the completed student worksheet for the Case Study.


Part 1 – Choose a location in New York State where you’d like to plant an apple orchard 

Part 2 – Review growing needs for apple tree varieties

Part 3 – Gather data from provided MS Excel files or from the source

Part 4 – Review historical climate data

Part 5 – Review predicted climate data

Part 6 - Choose apple trees for your 2050 orchard

For each part have students fill out the corresponding student worksheet. This will aid the thought and organization process.

Note – For an older classroom, MS Excel Data may be provided and students can create their own graphs for interpretation.

Part 1 — Choose a location in New York State where you’d like to plant an apple orchard

  1. Using a State map, choose a location where you’d like to create a orchard within New York State. The data provided are for a city/county within the Hudson Valley, Champlain Valley or along the southern shore of Lake Ontario, choosing a location in one of these locations would make the activity less complex.

Note: To challenge students have them choose a location where apples are not grown and use the provided data to decide if apples will begin to grow more successfully there in 2050.

Part 2 — Review Growing Needs for Apple Tree varieties

  1. Give students access to the file named student_factsheet.pdf  and student_worksheet.docx.
  2. Have them read and review the information in the apple fact sheet. They may use it as a reference throughout the activity.  Additional information could be used from the New York State Apple Growers Association: Fast Facts on Apple Production in the state: http://www.nyapplecountry.com/fastfacts.htm.
  3. While they read the fact sheet or after they’ve finished it have them fill in any data they find that is required in the student worksheet or they feel is important to their design.

Part 3 — Gather Data from Provided Resources

  1. For Students who have access to a computer and access to the Internet, have students locate their own data from the source.
    1. Data viewing on the Web: Have students follow the Northeast Climate Data tutorial and log on to the web site to access Historical and Modeled climate data for New York State
    2. Data in MS Excel students can be manipulated (internet not required): Have students open the provided MS Excel files for each climate variable
  2. For Students who may be younger or do not have access to the internet, give students access to the
    data for students.ppt file, that includes the data for each climate factor.  

Part 4 – Review Historical Climate Data

  1. Using the data students have acquired, have them fill out any historical data they need for their orchard design in the student worksheet. Direct them to think about what climate factors they want to consider and compare for the future. They may use the Case Study example sheet as an additional guide if the teacher wishes.

Part 5 — Review Predicted Climate Data

  1. Provide student access to the Northeast climate data website or the data for students.ppt file to review predicted changes in climate variables for the middle of the 21st century. The student worksheet should be used as a guide and filled in as they go. They may use the Case Study example sheet as an additional guide if the teacher wishes.

Part 6 — Choose Apple trees for your 2050 Orchard

  1. Using the climate data that the students found, have them choose new apple varieties for their orchards. They should use the data from the fact sheet and climate data sources as a reference to justify why they chose the apples they did.
  2. Have students discuss their findings and how their apple choices changed from what is popular in New York State now. Teachers may choose to use the provided discussion questions at the end of the student worksheet or use their own. 

Tools and Data


Microsoft Excel: A spreadsheet application is needed to analyze the data. Microsoft Excel is used in this chapter and is available as part of Microsoft Office.

Tool Builder

Microsoft Corporation - www.microsoft.com

Tool Cost

Excel is part of the suite of Microsoft Office software. Students and educators may be able to purchase this software at a reduced cost.  Open office software is also available and is compatible with these files.

Date Sets

Data Set 1

Data for Students.ppt

PowerPoint file of the figures and finished graphs required for each aspect of climate. These are pre completed and ready for students to interpret. The data are regionalized or in the form of a color coded map of New York State.

Data Source

North East Climate Data www.northeastclimatedata.org

Data Set 2


Excel spreadsheet created for this project from information from North East Climate Data of total precipitation for each month within the three popular apple growing regions. The precipitation totals provided are averaged over the regions for each month and also summed over the growing season. These data can be provided to students so they can create graphs and charts to interpret.

Data Source

North East Climate Data www.northeastclimatedata.org

Data Set 3


Excel spreadsheet of the regionalized, average monthly minimum temperatures for the apple producing regions. A correlation between the average monthly minimum temperatures and the time of the year when the last frost occurs was made. These data are also provided in the excel spreadsheet for students to create graphs of and/or interpret.

Data Source

North East Climate Data www.northeastclimatedata.org

Data Set 4

nys apple production.xls

This data set is a MS Excel document with two individual worksheets. The worksheet labeled ‘number of farms’ has data on the number of apple farms, trees and acres in New York State. This data set is organized by the number of farms, trees and acres of apple trees in each year as well as county and the state as a whole. The second excel worksheet is labeled ‘yearly apple production.’ This workbook provides the amount of apples produced in each year from 1999 to 2008. The apple production is broken down into millions of pounds of each apple variety.

Data Source

New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, Agricultural Statistics Service   www.nass.usda.gov/Statistics_by_State/New_York/Publications/Annual_Statistical_Bulletin/2009/09-bulletin.htm

Additional Resource 1:

Apple Fact sheet

This word document is a collective work of the important data about Apples and New York that students will need to successfully complete this unit.

Data Sources:

New York State Apple Growers Association





Additional Resource 2:

Student_worksheet.docx This word document is a guide for students to help walk them through the thought process and synthesis of collecting the important information required and then choosing appropriate apple varieties for their 2050 orchard.