AbstractThe representation of the thermal and hydrological states in land surface models is important for a realistic simulation of land–atmosphere coupling processes. The available evidence indicates that the simulation of subsurface thermodynamics in Earth system models is inaccurate due to a zero-heat-flux bottom boundary condition being imposed too close to the surface. To assess the influence of soil model depth on the simulated terrestrial energy and subsurface thermal state, sensitivity experiments have been carried out in piControl, historical, and RCP scenarios. A deeper bottom boundary condition placement has been introduced into the JSBACH land surface model by enlarging the vertical stratification from 5 to 12 layers, thereby expanding its depth from 9.83 to 1416.84 m. The model takes several hundred years to reach an equilibrium state in stand-alone piControl simulations. A depth of 100 m is necessary, and 300 m recommendable, to handle the warming trends in historical and scenario simulations. Using a deep bottom boundary, warming of the soil column is reduced by 0.5 to 1.5 K in scenario simulations over most land areas, with the largest changes occurring in northern high latitudes, consistent with polar amplification. Energy storage is 3–5 times larger in the deep than in the shallow model and increases progressively with additional soil layers until the model depth reaches about 200 m. While the contents of Part I focus on the sensitivity of subsurface thermodynamics to enlarging the space for energy, Part II addresses the sensitivity to changing the space for water and improving hydrological and phase-change interactions.