The nonlinear dynamics of a Penning trap plasma, including the effect of the finite length and end curvature of the plasma column, is studied. A new cylindrical particle-in-cell code, called KANDINSKY, has been implemented by using a new interpolation scheme. The principal idea is to calculate the volume of each cell from a particle volume, in the same manner as is done for the cell charge. With this new method, the density is conserved along streamlines and artificial sources of compressibility are avoided. The code has been validated with a number of tests. The code is then used to compare the dynamics of three different models: the standard Euler or drift-Poisson model, the modified drift-Poisson model [J. Finn Phys. Plasmas 6, 3744 (1999); Phys. Rev. Lett. 84, 2401 (2000)] with compressional effects, and the quasigeostrophic model of geophysical fluid dynamics in the limit of the gamma-plane approximation. The results of this investigation show that Penning traps can be used to simulate geophysical fluids. Moreover, the results for the m=1 diocotron instability reproduce qualitatively the experiments [C. F. Driscoll, Phy. Rev. Lett. 64, 645 (1990); C. F. Driscoll Phys. Fluids B 2, 1359 (1990)]: The instability turns the plasma "inside-out" resulting at the end in a stable, monotonic profile. (C) 2002 American Institute of Physics.