There is increasing evidence that large scale climate variation influences reproductive parameters of seabirds, but fewer studies have investigated possible effects on adult survival. Previous work has shown that climate variation reflected by the winter North Atlantic oscillation (WNAO) influences reproductive success in northern fulmars. Here, we use a 34 year long (1962–1995) individual-based data set to investigate inter-annual and inter-individual variation in adult survival in this species. Breeding success in the previous and current seasons, and both the WNAO and one-year lagged WNAO indexes, were considered as potential sources of inter-annual variation in survival and recapture probabilities. Sex and an index of body size were considered as potential sources of inter-individual variation in survival and recapture probabilities. Body size effects were not significant, but males and females differed in both their survival and recapture probabilities. Probability of recapture of females was positively correlated with breeding success in both the current and previous breeding seasons, whereas male recapture probabilities were correlated only with previous breeding success. Male and female survival decreased over the study period, suggesting that there had been a degradation of environmental conditions. This hypothesis was supported by the detection of a negative correlation between survival and the WNAO, which, in turn, showed a positive increase over this period. The negative correlation between female adult survival and WNAO did not result only from the long term behaviour of the two time series, but persisted for higher frequency fluctuations. In contrast, the correlation between male survival and WNAO seemed to result only from the long term behaviour of the two time series. Despite uncertainties over causal mechanisms, these findings add to the body of evidence that large scale climate variation could dramatically affect seabird population dynamics. Furthermore our results suggest that climate variation can differentially influence individuals with distinct phenotypic characteristics.