The effects of relative and absolute sea surface temperature (SST) on tropical cyclone potential intensity are investigated using the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) single-column model. The model is run in two modes: (i) radiative-convective equilibrium (RCE) to represent the convective response to uniform warming of the ocean as in a homogeneous aqua planet, and (ii) weak temperature gradient (WTG) to represent the convective response to warming over a limited area of ocean while the SST outside that area remains unchanged. The WTG calculations are taken to represent the sensitivity of the atmospheric state to relative SST changes, while the RCE calculations are taken to represent the sensitivity to absolute SST changes occurring in the absence of relative SST changes. The potential intensity is computed using temperature and moisture profiles from the two sets of experiments for various values of SST. The computed potential intensity is more sensitive to relative SST than to absolute SST, with slopes of between about 7 and 8 m s(-1) degrees C(-1) (depending on choice of input parameters in the model s convection scheme and other details of the model configuration) in the WTG calculations and about 1 m s(-1) degrees C(-1) in RCE. The sensitivity to relative SST obtained from these calculations is quantitatively similar to that obtained previously by G. Vecchi and B.J. Soden from global climate model output. The greater sensitivity of potential intensity to SST in the WTG simulations (relative to RCE) can be attributed primarily to larger changes in the air-sea thermodynamic disequilibrium in those calculations as SST changes, which results from the inability of the free troposphere to adjust to the SST in WTG as it does in RCE.